In this module, we look at some of the ways we can get involved in national campaigns about climate change and raising it as an issue in our communities, workplaces, schools and colleges. Climate change has become the greatest threat to our planet and everyone on it. The devastating human and economic impacts of climate change are being felt already, from the flooded towns and villages across the UK in recent years to the brutal Typhoon Haiyan that smashed its way across the Philippines in 2014. We know that if we don’t act now, the effects will be even more devastating. People are increasingly aware of this and can see that things are going badly wrong. But often we are at a loss as to know what we can do and how to get involved in tackling this most pressing issue of our times.

In this module, we look at some of the ways we can get involved in national campaigns about climate change and raising it as an issue in our communities, workplaces, schools and colleges.

Getting involved in Campaigning

If the UK government is to deliver the Paris Agreement it signed up to and a Zero-Carbon Britain by 2050, then it must have the policies to do that. 2019 has seen a dramatic shift in public concern about the climate crisis. Union campaigns, the school student strikes, Extinction Rebellion’s actions, anti-fracking movements, all call for a serious re-think on government policies. Major high carbon projects, like the government’s massive road-building programme or airport expansion, are called into question. It would certainly mean no to fracking for shale gas. For workers in the North Sea oil and gas industry, the government must deliver new inward investment in the communities affected. For these workers and communities, a Just Transition means providing alternative, highly skilled jobs for the future.   These are huge challenges. It means government must provide a space where representatives of businesses, unions, and wider civil society can come together with government at a national level.  But at the moment there is no sign of any of this happening. The UK’s own expert advisers described the government’s efforts at tackling climate change as like ‘Dad’s army.’ The government is tied to the same economic and political framework that has led to austerity, and deep cuts in public services and funding for infrastructure. So it’s hard to imagine the change required happening. But we can’t afford to just wait for governments and policymakers to come up with solutions. In fact, they are far more likely to respond if there is pressure from people and communities taking action. An example of this is the successful campaign in Scotland that led to the Scottish Government announcing a halt to shale gas and coalbed methane exploration. One organisation bringing people together to campaign for urgent action on climate crisis is the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC). It operates at a local level, nationally and internationally to raise awareness of environmental issues and to take action. They organise national conferences, for example, on climate refugees. And in 2015 they led the Time to Act demonstration in London, attended by 20,000 people. Here’s a short video of the event. Numerous movements around the world are taking action and campaigning about the climate emergency. If you would like to get involved in campaigning there are a number of groups in the UK.  Here is a list of some of the main groups along with their website addresses where you can find out what they are about and the campaigns and actions they are involved in. Usually you can sign up for free email updates. Details of local groups linked to the organisations can be found in the right-hand column of the following table. [table id=3 /]

Trade Union Clean Air Network (TUCAN)

A coalition of 13 major unions, the Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA), the Hazards Campaign and others set up a network to highlight the link between climate change and air pollution at work.  The TUCAN Charter emphasises that air pollution is as much an occupational health emergency as a public health one. TUCAN is backed by a free online training course (available on the GJA website) and has the support of most of the unions in the energy, transport and education sectors. See also the TUCAN guide for union reps and a 3 module Air Pollution course   Check out the TUCAN section of this website.  

Getting involved at work

Workplaces are a great place to start! At work, we use up energy and resources, generate waste, and our work journeys and deliveries all add to our ‘carbon footprint.’  Raising complicated issues like climate change where you work can be tricky. But there are some fairly easy ways to get started, such as energy saving or recycling schemes, made all the easier if you work together with others at work, and if you have a willing employer!  Some unions offer their members helpful guidance:  Here is a list of suggestions, some of which you might want to consider. If you are a member of a union, you could:
  • Check out your union’s website. Is there an environment page? Has your union got a policy on green reps?
  • If your branch doesn’t have a green rep, consider becoming one. Many unions will offer support and provide training.
  • Speak to fellow workers about saving energy by turning off unnecessary equipment and lights. 
  • Look at how waste is managed in the organisation. Could more be done to cut down on unnecessary waste?
  • Find out what your fellow workers’ opinions and concerns are about environmental issues in the workplace.
  • Speak to your green rep or learning rep about organising a climate change awareness-raising event or use an existing event to promote the One Million Climate Jobs campaign by booking a speaker or selling the pamphlets.
  • Ask your union to affiliate to one of the campaigns mentioned above. 
Unions are in a unique position to lead on environmental and energy efficiency in the workplace and encourage changes in behaviour. Employers should be aware of this and see that improving their environmental performance is an investment for the future. If there is no union at your workplace, you can still raise environmental issues, whether it’s around energy-saving, cutting down on waste, recycling, transport, safe and healthy working environments. If there are other workers sharing your concerns, you could form an environment group to raise awareness and act together.  Suggest an environmental audit of the workplace. The TUC has a practical guide to taking action in the workplace, which we hope will inspire you. The first section, Taking action, gives guidance on researching the environmental performance of your workplace and negotiating for improvements, and includes a list of suggested workplace activities. It provides a checklist of questions that are useful in assessing how green your workplace is. Go Green at Work: A handbook for union green representatives.  The European TUC ‘s handbook, Green Workplaces, A guide for union reps, includes a basic checklist, which is a good place to start.  Employers should support staff initiatives. More efficient use of resources and developing in a more sustainable way is beneficial for an organisation’s future and yours, too!

One Million Climate Jobs

In the previous module, we heard trade unionists and climate activists at the Paris Summit talk of the importance of working together and with other social movements to tackle the climate crisis.  The One Million Climate Jobs campaign was set up by trade unionists working within the CACC. This campaign calls on the government to create a million climate jobs to solve both the economic and environmental crises. It is supported by a number of national unions, including UNITE, the National Union of Students (NUS), and climate activists and experts. Here is a section from their report outlining their key demands:
‘We need workers to build enough wind power, solar power, wave power and tidal power to meet all our energy needs. We need workers to insulate and retrofit all our existing homes and buildings in order to conserve energy. And we need workers to run a massive public transport system powered by renewable electricity. We have people who need jobs, and jobs that must be done. So we want the government to hire a million people to do new climate jobs now in an integrated National Climate Service. Our estimate is that those workers could cut our CO2 emissions by 86% in twenty years. We can also create another half a million jobs in the supply line. And we can guarantee a new job to anyone who loses their job because of these changes.’
One Million Climate Jobs 3rd report

Getting involved outside the workplace

Your place of work is part of a wider community. Your employer may even have policies that support community engagement. Check whether:
  • there are any current links with campaigns and community groups
  • there are any local issues/campaigns that you can link to your workplace. For example air quality, transport policies, renewable energy and energy efficiency
  • your pension fund has investments in fossil fuels. Web sites like ShareAction  and Fossil Free  can help you with this
  • your union branch is affiliated to the local trades union council

In Conclusion

Climate change is a growing concern for all of us. We don’t need to be scientists to talk with others about climate change. It’s much more important to talk about our own experiences and concerns. Sometimes it’s easy to wonder, when a problem is so huge, whether individuals can make any difference at all. But the small changes we make and the actions we take as consumers and citizens, using the power we have, do matter. It matters how we live our lives. The need to live in harmony with the natural world which gives us everything, even a sense of beauty, is the subject of the following  5 minute film. It features Jeremy Irons and Maxine Peake and is written by Michael Morpurgo.  It touchingly reminds us of the wonders of Earth and all that we stand to lose if we don’t halt climate change and take care of our world. Show the Love film ‘I wish for you’ This is the end of the Climate Change Awareness course. We would appreciate your feedback.

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