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A positive story: We’ve had so many wins’: why the green movement can overcome climate crisis

We’ve had so many wins’: why the green movement can overcome climate crisis
Leaded petrol, acid rain, CFCs … the last 50 years of environmental action have shown how civil society can force governments and business to change,
Guardian, by Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent, Mon 12 Oct 2020 

Leaflets printed on “rather grotty” blue paper. That is how Janet Alty will always remember one of the most successful environment campaigns of modern times: the movement to ban lead in petrol.

There were the leaflets she wrote to warn parents at school gates of the dangers, leaflets to persuade voters and politicians, leaflets to drown out the industry voices saying – falsely – there was nothing to worry about.

In the late 1970s, the UK was still poisoning the air with the deadly toxin, despite clear scientific evidence that breathing in lead-tainted air from car exhausts had an effect on development and intelligence. Recently returned from several years in the US, Alty was appalled. Lead had been phased out in the US from 1975. Why was the British government still subjecting children to clear harm?

Robin Russell-Jones asked the same question. A junior doctor, he quickly grasped the nature of the lead problem, moving his family out of London. His fellow campaigner, Robert Stephens, amassed a trove of thousands of scientific papers, keeping them in his garage when his office burned down – he suspected foul play.

Their campaign took years. But in 1983, a damning verdict from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution prompted the UK government to decree that both petrol stations and manufacturers must offer lead-free alternatives. Leaded petrol was finally removed from the last petrol pumps in the UK in 1999.

Today, it seems incredible that lead was ever used as a performance improver in car engines. Clean alternatives were available by the 1970s, but making the transition incurred short-term costs, so the motor industry, led by chemicals companies, clung on, lobbying politicians and ridiculing activists.

Faced with multiplying, and interlinked, environmental crises in the 2020s – the climate emergency, the sixth extinction stalking the natural world, the plastic scourge in our oceans, the polluted air of teeming metropolises – it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Lockdown offered a tantalising glimpse of a cleaner world, but also revealed a starker truth: that the global economy is not set up to prioritise wellbeing, climate and nature. What can we do, in the face of these devastating odds?

It is easy to forget that environmentalism is arguably the most successful citizens’ mass movement there has been. Working sometimes globally, at other times staying intensely local, activists have transformed the modern world in ways we now take for granted. The ozone hole has shrunk. Whales, if not saved, at least enjoy a moratorium on hunting. Acid rain is no longer the scourge of forests and lakes. Rivers thick with pollution in the 1960s teem with fish. Who remembers that less than 30 years ago, nuclear tests were still taking place in the Pacific? Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior ship was blown up by the French government in 1985, with one death and many injuries, in a long-running protest.

As well as giving heart to activists now, these victories contain important lessons. “The environmental movement has been very successful,” says Joanna Watson, who has worked at Friends of the Earth for three decades. “We’ve had so many campaigns and wins. Sometimes it’s been hard to claim success, and sometimes it takes a long time. And sometimes things that worked before won’t work now. But there’s a lot we can learn.”……
For Watson, the emphasis on what people have in common, despite surface divisions, is at the core of the green movement. “The thing about the environmental movement is, it crosses all barriers,” she says. “Whatever our political bent, we are all human, all people on the planet, and all interdependent. The environment is not something separate from us – we are all in the environment. It is where we live.”  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/12/climate-crisis-campaigns-pledge-real-change

October 13, 2020 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, climate change

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