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Lessons from the coalface: what the Cumbria coal mine story tells us about UK climate strategy
10th October 2020
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The UK may see itself as a climate leader, with cross-party support for a net zero goal. But, last week, local politicians granted planning permission for a proposed coal mine on the West Coast of Cumbria. Burning the coal from the mine, to make steel, will release nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. That’s more than double Cumbria’s total current emissions. (There’s more on the background to the mine in this briefing.)

I first wrote about the mine more than a year ago, pointing out that it was a casualty of the ambiguities » Continue Reading.

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Coal culture wars are generated by money and power
9th July 2020
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This article was published in The Times Red Box column, on 9 July. The text below is a referenced version of the same article.

Could a remote spot in the far northwest of England become the new battleground in the culture wars? A new coal mine has been proposed on the Cumbrian coast, just up the road from me. Like Brexit or colonial statues, opinions are bitterly divided. To one side, it’s obvious that the mine should go ahead. Coal is part of the UK’s proud industrial heritage, and the new mine will provide much-needed local jobs, as well » Continue Reading.

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New book: Too Hot to Handle? The democratic challenge of climate change
10th April 2020
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This is not the blog I expected to write to launch my book. As I sit at my desk, on a Monday morning, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting home. My kids are adjusting to a much smaller world, without school or friends. My older teen is giving my younger teen a maths lesson, while I agonise about whether it’s safe to let them go to the park. In the space of a few weeks, everything has changed.

My book, published just as the lockdown began, is about the climate crisis and democracy. Fundamentally, it’s about the relationship » Continue Reading.

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What does a watertight national climate strategy look like?
26th November 2019
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As the UK heads to the polls once more, there’s something different this time round. In previous elections, climate change barely got any airtime. Now, as poll after poll shows that people want action, politicians are talking about the climate crisis, and offering voters their prescriptions for action.

How can we judge their efforts? There is a real danger that we will be enticed by glittering offers of ‘solutions’, like incentives for electric vehicles, tree-planting programmes and the expansion of renewable energy. These are all good things to do. Yet they mask a more fundamental problem that I have come » Continue Reading.

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What can I do about climate change? Some resources for school workshops
10th July 2019
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I have been doing some workshops in schools recently, on climate science and action, in response to requests from students or teachers. I am not an expert in environmental education or climate communication – though I have taken advice from them. My aim is to do what I can to share my knowledge and help local schools.

I promised a list of resources, so here goes.

The best very short explanation of climate change I’ve seen is Kim Nicholas’ five-point summary: 1) it’s warming; 2) it’s us; 3) we’re sure; 4) it’s bad; 5) we can fix it.

» Continue Reading.

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Citizens’ Assemblies and Citizens’ Juries: What happens next?
16th May 2019
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It’s been called the ‘climate spring’– the very welcome, and very necessary, upswell of public concern and political attention on climate change. School strikes, the Extinction Rebellion protests, advocacy for a Green New Deal in the US, the Committee on Climate Change calling for a more stringent target, and the declaration of a ‘climate emergency’ by the UK Parliament, Wales, Scotland and many local areas: all this has come together to shift the politics of climate change up a gear. What next?

One idea that has attracted a lot of interest is the proposal for a Citizens’ Assembly on » Continue Reading.

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The Green New Deal: time for the UK to step up to the challenge?
8th February 2019
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Amid the drear of the Brexit endgame, as I trawl through my newsfeed my spirits have been lifted by the incredible goings-on over the pond.

A quick recap: the unstoppable new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with Senator Ed Markey, and significant numbers of democrats including four presidential hopefuls, have put forward a resolution on a Green New Deal. The plan? To shift the US to zero-carbon through a far-reaching package of government support for investment and jobs, aiming for a transition that is socially just as well as environmentally responsible. It’s worth reading the plan itself– it’s short and » Continue Reading.

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Out of the mouths of babes: Greta Thunberg and being ‘naïve’ on climate
30th January 2019
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I can’t stop thinking about sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, speaking with quiet determination to roomfuls of powerful people in Davos.

I think that Thunberg has an incredible gift. She summarises, with simplicity and eloquence, what climate scientists have been telling us for a long time – that climate change threatens our future on this planet; and that drastic cuts to emissions are needed, starting now.

Thunberg does not equivocate. She knows what she is saying is deeply uncomfortable to her audience, and she says it anyway. She speaks truth to power.

She can do this, in part, because she is powerless. » Continue Reading.

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Simplifying energy governance to move to zero-carbon
25th January 2019
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This year I’m working with the brilliant IGov team at Exeter’s Energy Policy Group, examining governance frameworks for energy. My inner geek is delighted. First task: a blog to explain how the complexities of energy policy get in the way of climate ambitions. Here it is…

The UK’s Climate Change Act sets an admirably simple, legally-binding framework for carbon reduction. The targets are clear. Yet the means to achieve them are opaque.

As the government considers strengthening the UK’s targets, and moving toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the IGov project has offered evidence to the Committee » Continue Reading.

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How do politicians understand and respond to climate change?
12th October 2018
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With the IPCC’s latest report showing the urgent need for action on climate change, attention has turned once again to that tricky issue of ‘political will’. In the words of Christiana Figueres, previously head of the UN’s climate body, there is “an acute need for speed, radical collaboration, and more visionary political leadership”.

But what do the politicians themselves think? What does the deceptively simple phrase ‘political will’ mean to elected representatives, who are called on to act?

This is a question I have been studying since 2014, in a collaborative research project with Lancaster University and Green Alliance. » Continue Reading.