There is a chance of a better life in London
In our world, change often happens at such velocity and scale that it can leave us stunned. Whole industries and the communities they support vanish in less than a generation; a revolution in information technology liberates some and bewilders others; a changing climate threatens even the familiar rhythms of the seasons and shape of the land we love.
Nothing seems permanent, very little seems safe. The age we live in, for all its dizzying excitement, seems under siege by vast forces that are beyond our control.
And yet…. We also know that if we could capture the energy of human inventiveness and the positive potential of this change, we could use it to build a better life.
Nowhere is this truer than in London.
This city and its people have the potential to come together in this bewildering, dazzling world of change, and to shape it to reflect our common values, needs and dreams. This is the task for our generation. It is our problem, and we need to turn our shared fate into a common destiny.
We’ve done it before. We have rebuilt our cities after great plagues and fires, after crippling smog and after the devastation of war. We have stood together at the edge of crisis after crisis and tackled our shared problems together. We understand that hard work; solidarity and a deep loyalty to our country and each other can move mountains.
New technologies, and our own imaginations, could help us create a shared home that is fairer, less polluted, more secure and more connected – a home where the things we cherish most deeply once again have the chance to thrive.
And we are lucky because so many people are already striving to build connections and find new ways of living together. Social enterprises, crowd-sourcing, alternative banking, on-line communities of mutual support and sharing, campaigns that solve problems as well as finding and exposing them, are springing up all around us. Our task is to nurture these green shoots, to link them together and to bring them to a scale and visibility that achieves genuine transformation - not just of what we do, but also of how we live and work together and how we imagine the public realm.
In places like Brixton and Hackney local communities are already creating the energy system of tomorrow. Locally generated energy – run by the local community is showing how clean energy can bring communities together and create a pride of place. Repowering London is an excellent example of a campaign to make these sorts of projects more wide spread and campaigns like ‘Switched on London’ demonstrate a demand for these types of solutions at a larger scale. Giving Londoners a stake in their own energy system is a vital first step in getting the transition we need.
We’re taking action against the environmental problems we face together. London has appalling levels of air pollution. Our roads break annual pollution limits within days of the New Year. Some schoolchildren study and play in air that is three times dirtier than the law allows and their lungs are damaged as a consequence. Yet campaigns like Clean Air London, with support from groups across the city, are succeeding in getting the candidates who want to be our new mayor to commit to take action.
And it is this spirit of renewal that we now need again. A revolution in energy, transport, building design, resource use and information management is coming. It is coming because we need it. Because our collective response to the threat posed by climate change requires nothing less - and because we are learning how to power our economy with energy sources that are clean, small-scale, decentralised and smart.
And by doing this we achieve other important changes too. We could reduce and eventually eliminate our dependence on dirty fuel imported from some of the most unstable and intolerant regions of the world. Our cities could become cleaner, quieter and safer. Our children could breathe air that doesn’t threaten their health. All our homes could be warm and dry. New green spaces could give kids the room they need to grow, and all of us the space we need to run, sit, dream, rest and meet our neighbours.
But to make the most of this revolution, we have to grab it by both hands. We can either allow the future to be designed and built by others – or we can grasp the opportunity it represents, and make it our own. The moment of choice is now. If we want to be able to tell our children that we remade the world for them, we need to act.
With the mayoral election now live – the city has the chance to shape the plans of a new mayor to reform our city. Lets hope we see candidates striving for safe air quality, more green space, new low carbon transport and a plan to bring clean jobs to the city.
This means taking responsibility. It means rolling up our sleeves and creating new industries. It means facing the realities of a changing climate, a growing population, expanding cities, shifting patterns of work, and new forms of organising. It means building new banks to fund the transformation we need – banks that we invest in, and we control. It will mean re-shaping our schools, universities and technical colleges to train us for the challenges ahead.
Change is coming. Our city should be ready for the work it brings, and eager for the world it can create. The character and ingenuity of the people of London can and will turn this climate challenge into hope, and into achievement.
Scott Langdon is the Associate Director of Here Now. Here Now works to accelerate the adoption of solutions to climate change.