The Earth will continue … But we won’t

Two activists explain why Green UNISON Week, from 15-22 September, is so important

The Statue of Liberty rising out of water and ice as a symbol of climate change

“It’s very simple really. I’m scared. Very scared. Something significant is happening to our weather.”

Chris Burrow is the education convenor and welfare officer for UNISON’s Coventry City branch, and in recent years has also become involved in the union’s environmental work.

He points out that, “Every week there’s at least one story of international disaster due to unusual weather patterns.

“While there is nothing new about weather-related death and destruction, the frequency and intensity of it has clearly increased greatly.”

‘Life will be harder, more expensive and less predictable’

Chris is commenting as a summer that has seen a ring of fire around the Mediterranean draws to a close. Traditional ideas of what weather to expect at what time of year have all but disappeared.

He observes that CO2 is trapping more heat and energy in Earth’s atmosphere – meaning higher temperatures, higher evaporation rates, heavier rain and less predictable weather patterns. The higher temperatures mean greater loss of polar ice and rising sea levels.

“If we continue to pump similar levels of CO2 into the atmosphere, this will only get worse,” he says.

In the UK, that will mean more flooding, more landslips, loss of property and land in low-lying coastal areas, including tidal estuaries,  higher food prices due to crop loss, higher immigration from more southerly regions that will be more affected, and greater mortality due to heat waves.

“Life will be harder, more expensive and less predictable,” he says. “And it will be the poorest, the working class, who’ll be most affected by that.”

A Greener Planet

Chris notes that no one seems to know when a tipping point will happen. “So we are basically taking a gamble every day we delay making our society carbon neutral. If we don’t act before we reach it, those run-away effects will become unstoppable. The Earth will continue. But we won’t. It will become inhospitable for humans.

“If you want a future for your family and friends, doing nothing is not an option.”

Green UNISON Week

And, of course, that’s why the climate crisis is also a trade union matter, and why Green UNISON Week takes place every September – not as simply seven days in 365, but as a way of boosting awareness and activism throughout the year.

The union has its own policies to help tackle the situation, but Chris stresses: “It’s important to build support for a Green Deal and counter fossil fuel-funded propaganda about ‘lentil-eating woke lefties who want to ban you from driving your car’.

“For me, the threat of possible extinction is alarming, and it’s that fear that motivates. Fear, and the sheer injustice that it will be our members who will bear the brunt of the worst effects of climate change. We had a taster of this during COVID – failure to prepare adequately for an epidemic meant it was in the poor and disadvantaged where the death toll was the highest.”

Wild fire burns young forest of birch trees

London-based social worker Emmanuel Okot is the environment officer for UNISON’s community and voluntary organisations branch, “inspired, by the need to participate and give back to our communities, to keep our environment clean, safe and sustainable”.

He has been working to make sure that “all UNISON members promote zero carbon emissions in their respective communities and workplaces” in a number of ways, including using public transport, cycling and walking.

In the workplace itself, he has been promoting reducing, reusing and recycling all materials and equipment used by members. “By cutting down on the amount of waste dumped, this will conserve natural resources, landfill space and energy,” he explains.

And Emmanuel has also shared useful green information on the branch’s WhatsApp platform and emails.

Attending environment and energy expos in London over the last two years, and reporting back to branch monthly meetings, he’s been able to keep members abreast of new information and trends.

To mark this year’s Green Week, Emmanuel has organised a UNISON summer green voucher competition for all members, with the best performer awarded by a £30 voucher by the end of September”.

Nor is Emmanuel limiting himself to what he can achieve in the UK. “I’m also working on a project to increase awareness in reducing greenhouse gas concentrations, by planting trees in my community in Uganda,” he notes. “The biggest challenge is funding and l hope to achieve this goal by 2027.”

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