Cllr Mark Jones assured the public at Full Council in February that this year’s Council Tax letter would inform residents about the extreme threats of the climate and ecological emergencies (CEE). We were therefore extremely disappointed to open our Council Tax bills and read your letter, which only included one solitary sentence on this topic. You wrote, “we must create a sustainable economy to tackle the climate emergency, becoming carbon neutral by 2030”. The statement did nothing to help Sheffielders understand the climate emergency, or show how the Council are responding to it.
Since your previous Council Tax letter, we have yet again experienced flooding in Sheffield. Thankfully last November the £21m flood defences prevented a massive disaster here, but the good people downstream of Sheffield, especially in Fishlake, will not be thanking you for that. Sheffield continues to fail to construct more natural flood resilience schemes upstream, to slow the flow of the water from the moors.
Last July the city experienced its hottest temperature on record, 35.1 degrees C. Sheffield was fortunate that the weather broke before it had a chance to cause the sort of suffering that Paris experienced in 2003 when similar temperatures led to over 15000 deaths.
Also this year we have seen massive destruction from fires in Australia, the Arctic, California, and the Amazon, and nearer to home the moors over Saddleworth, Marsden, and Ilkley.
The Tyndall Report presented Sheffield with a carbon budget, 16 Megatonnes for the entire century, which with business, as usual, will be consumed by 2025. A 14% yearly carbon reduction is required to stay below the target of no more than 2 degrees warming over pre-industrial times (more if the proposed 1.5-degree target is to be assured).
Extinction Rebellion has held ‘die-ins’ at the Town Hall and in February we presented petitions to the Full Council Meeting. So that our message could not escape attention we engaged in civil disobedience in the chamber. For 30 years politicians have ignored the warnings, so XR has made three demands: Tell the Truth, Act Now and Form a Citizens Assembly.
Telling the Truth is about recognising the severity of the CEE, and communicating the findings to the residents of Sheffield. When people are properly informed about the threats they can protect themselves and their communities and agree to measures that politicians will have to enact. Telling the Truth is understanding that we are on target for:
- temperature rises in excess of 4 degrees centigrade by the end of the century
- the extinction of one million species
- the collapse of agriculture with resulting widespread famines
- the loss of millions and probably billions of human lives
- the disruption of our civilisation from wars and widespread social unrest
This emergency is unprecedented in scale. It is far greater than coronavirus. This is frightening and fear can cause paralysis, but you are a leader so you can’t opt-out of this. Leaders must lead in times of emergency. We have asked you to tell the truth in bold and imaginative ways, to communicate using the council websites, and by writing directly to residents. We have alerted you to the good practice of other councils, and we have addressed the specific weaknesses of the communication of SCC.
You know how to respond to an emergency, as you are doing so with Covid.
You understand the need for clear and direct messaging. If we look at how authorities are talking to the people of Britain, it could not be more different from your failure of communication on CEE.
Public messaging on Covid has provided instructions for people, described the actions that the authorities will take and informed us of difficulties that people are going to face. You can do that for Covid so why not for the CEE?
Your attention is now rightly focused on Covid, but it would be criminal if the people of Sheffield suffer so much from this emergency, and yet their leaders do nothing to stop the far bigger climate emergency that is unfolding. You will not be the leader then, but your actions will influence the lives of future generations in Sheffield.
You must take your responsibilities to the CEE as seriously as you are Covid. You must atone for the failure of the council tax letter by taking serious and far-reaching steps to communicate the severity of this threat and what needs to be done. When Covid is over we can’t go back to business as usual. The moment has come to build a fairer, kinder, sustainable world, to build upon the outpouring of altruism and community we are witnessing, and to limit the deaths that are a consequence of global heating.
Hottest day in Sheffield
Temperature rise of 4 degrees C by the end of the century
Extinction of one million species
The collapse of agriculture
Climate change raises conflict concerns
Julie Dore’s original letter in full