Climate justice could be the answer to the cost of living crisis
Energy bills are skyrocketing, your weekly big shop is eating up more of your pay check and, to top it all off, the cost of rent, trains and national insurance is going up. What's all this got to do with climate change? We're so glad you asked.
Have you noticed how everything has been getting more expensive lately? I’ve been finding myself doing double-takes of food prices in the supermarket, as I scan the barely filled shelves looking for penne pasta or Warburtons crumpets on a Monday night.
But it’s not just food prices that are skyrocketing. There was an announcement a few months ago that, from April 2022, our energy bills could rise by nearly £700, as the government lifted the price cap by 54 per cent. As we creep closer to April, people are now getting their extortionate bills through the letterbox and don’t know what to do with themselves.
It gets worse: at the beginning of March, rail prices rose by 3.8 per cent nationally and, in London, tube and bus fares increased by 5 per cent. You’ve probably also noticed that rent, mortgage and tax rates are increasing too, with the cost of private renting rising by 2 per cent since last year, the fastest pace in five years. To top it all off, national insurance reform, which has been called “regressive”, is also going up by 1.25 per cent from next month, with young people taking a disproportionate hit. Go figure.
With a shocking war happening in Ukraine after Russia invaded the country towards the end of February, this too will affect food and energy prices. And, you guessed it, the cost of living crisis disproportionately punishes those with low incomes. All of this comes after two years of a pandemic, a decade of Tory austerity and stagnant wages. The rising cost of simply existing will be crippling for many, squeezing the last pennies out of our already frayed pockets.
But what on earth has any of this got to do with climate justice? Well, a lot. The climate crisis is a “threat multiplier”, meaning that it makes pre-existing problems far, far worse. There is now research that suggests the cost of climate change could be six times higher than previously thought. Who will have to front the bill for that? The organisations driving the climate crisis won’t be digging into their own pockets to cover it, I’m sure.
Take, for example, exorbitant energy costs and their relation to the climate crisis. Many houses in the UK wouldn’t need as much gas to heat their homes if they were properly insulated by the government. Even though we have some of the draughtiest buildings in Europe, the Tories refuse to do this, regardless of how many Insulate Britain protesters lie down on motorways. The real kicker? Insulating homes wouldn’t only save people money, but it would also save us from pumping toxic pollutants into the atmosphere and intensifying the greenhouse gas effect.
Rising energy prices also reflect our inability to adapt to renewable energy quickly enough. Although there has been some great progress made, renewables can still be deeply unreliable, especially during low-wind years. This basically means that, currently, non-renewables are needed to step in when renewables aren’t able to produce enough energy. And non-renewables famously tend to… not renew (surprise!), meaning supply might become an issue very soon, if it isn’t already. That’s why Europe would be in deep trouble if Russia does cut everyone off. Low supply levels will inevitably hike prices up again.
Climate inaction is truly taking a financial toll on ordinary people, but none of this concerns the likes of Shell or British Gas, while they accumulate billions in record profits. As they continue to pump and pollute the atmosphere, lining their pockets in the process, everyone in Britain has to absorb the costs. Why? I’ll give you a clue: our government. Instead of finding ways to make these companies pay for the surging energy costs like other European countries, the Tories simply allow them to do whatever they want – while handing out tax breaks. We really don’t have to be the ones paying for this, but without government intervention, there’s little we can do about it.
And then there are the rising food prices. Failing food crops are fuelling food shortages, thereby driving higher prices in shops. The relationship between this and the climate crisis is pretty straightforward: as farmland is destroyed, bad agricultural practices continue and global heating amps up, crops will simply disappear. Thanks to this, we’re going to see more food scarcity in the coming decade. And unless we’re able to deal with the climate crisis in the agricultural sector, people won’t just be out of pocket, they’ll starve under the weight of collapsing food cycles.
Suppose we were to see the climate crisis unfold, along with a culmination of greed, exploitation, colonialism and unsustainable extraction, as many climate experts already are. In that case, climate justice must address and undo all of these factors that are driving us into the scary unknown. How do we do that? By seeking social justice and sharing resources. Luckily, that already tends to be the core principle of any green movement.
Still trying to wrap your head around how the principles of climate justice can tackle the cost of living crisis?
Let’s take the housing crisis, for example, which is being driven by a lack of safe and affordable accommodation options. The solution to this may not only lie in building new, sustainable housing, but in how we share all the property available to us fairly. In a situation where the ultra-wealthy have hoarded acres of land, affordable housing has been privatised, and mega-landlords collect property like Pokémon cards, protections need to be put into place that will not only stop this trend, but will also reverse it.
The good news is, this is already happening: in Wales, second homes could face a 300 per cent hike in council taxes. The Welsh Labour politician serving as Minister for Climate Change said it was “the right thing to do.” We need more people in power to step up and apply this mentality to the cost of living crisis.
If climate justice is rooted in a vision of a just society – a world in which we’re not unsustainably extracting natural resources while a few rich people capitalise off them – then the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis are inextricably linked. So why not lean on climate justice to find the answer? Two birds, one stone.