We must follow the lead set by the schoolchildren on the climate crisis

Photo by  David Holt . Used under a  Creative Commons licence .

Photo by David Holt. Used under a Creative Commons licence.

I believe that it is shameful that in recent months children around the world have been forced to leave their classrooms and take to the streets to protest against persistent political inaction around climate change. Why are children striking on this issue and not adults? What is wrong with us that we are leaving it to children to make the government listen? 

We know that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called for an urgent re-engineering of our fossil-fuelled economies and lifestyles, including a massive 5% increase in renewable energy per year between 2020 and 2050.  Adults know all this, but carry on voting for the same growth-obsessed, business-as-usual parties and expect their children to pick up the tab in another decade or two when it will be too late, or the tab is trillions we can no longer afford.

16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg has described the UK's response to climate change as "beyond absurd" and she is right. Alongside the creative accounting on the UK’s carbon emissions the government has banned onshore wind farms, blocked some offshore windfarms, scrapped warm homes standards and cut solar energy subsidies which have caused the loss of thousands of jobs. 

Whilst slashing support for renewables, it has encouraged and subsidised new exploitation of fossil fuels, both in the UK and abroad, forcing fracking, open-cast coal mining and airport expansion on local communities against their will. We should all be able to see through the government’s greenwashing of its criminally-insane energy and transport policies, but it takes a brave Swedish schoolgirl to look Michael Gove in the eye and say ‘You lied to us’. As Greta said, ‘Never mind the words’. Nothing matters apart from actions to halt emissions which must stop, not decline, to if we are to stay within  the 1.5% temperature increase limit we signed up to in Paris. 

The British government makes green noises on the one hand, whilst pursuing many of the same pro-fossil fuel policies as their corrupt Republican cousins across the water. They will only stop when they are made to stop. The actions of climate striking children and Extinction Rebellion are the first serious signs of a more intense struggle ahead which must involve the Trade Union movement, including UCU. As a union we  should be supporting a wider, cross-generational Climate Strike to focus our government’s attention on the need to urgently reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025.

As educators and trade unionists we may need to step back and ask ourselves what our role has been in this bizarre state of affairs where children are schooling adults on our responsibilities to act on the agreed science? The consequences of the failure to act after more than thirty years of warnings are all around us: extreme weather, melting polar caps, millions of climate change refugees and the commencement of the sixth great mass extinction event. These appalling developments were all predicted decades ago, but across the political spectrum there has been the same lack of urgency in the response. 

As trade unionists we also need to fight against the false narrative that economic justice can be delivered through maximum growth and by creating more jobs in the fossil fuel and nuclear power sectors. Real jobs and economic security will only come with a transformation of our economy towards a low-impact, low-carbon future with a reduced working week and a shift away from waste, consumerism, factory farming, the motorcar and cheap flights. Economic inequalities will not be addressed by pumping more carbon into the atmosphere, they will only grow wider and harder to manage. We need a Green New Deal, a break with business as usual and a militant campaign of support for climate action in the workplace and with our children and others who are striking for the right to survive. 

The next school strike for climate is on 24 May. To find out more about the Earth Strike beginning on 27 September see https://www.earth-strike.com/

Why I am standing

My name is Jo McNeill, and I am standing as a candidate for UCU General Secretary.


I stood for General Secretary against Sally Hunt as a rank-and-file candidate, calling for a change of direction, and received 41% of the votes.

I am an ordinary member of our trade union. I have worked in our sector for most of my adult life, and joined UCU as soon as I was eligible. FE and the University of Liverpool gave me a second chance. I have been working in Higher Education in Widening Participation and Fair Access since my MA. I am currently UCU Branch President at the University of Liverpool and in my fifth year on NEC.

I am an activist: I want our union to stand up for ordinary members, something I do each day, every day.

I have just come from contesting the Vice President election in UCU. Vicky Blake and I toured the country speaking to too many branches to count. You can watch my Vice President election video below.

In that election the vote went three ways. It is testament to the non-sectarian nature of my support that the majority of my supporters voted for the other left candidate, Vicky Blake second, and it was my second preference votes which ensured that she won.

This is an introduction to my campaign. All members will receive a copy of my full election address with your ballot paper in April. Between now and then I will circulate a series of blog posts addressing issues our members are facing. These will be tweeted out, shared on my facebook page and emailed to branches.

To get going, I have put a short analysis and explanation of why I am standing on this blog.

If you are interested in what I have to say, ask your branch officers to share my posts with you or contact me direct on: j.mcneill@liverpool.ac.uk

Turnout in the last election was under 13%. It’s vital that you let your voice be heard, whichever way you decide to vote.

You can follow me on twitter: @jomcneillUCU

You can keep up to date with my blog: jomcneill4gensec.com

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