Emergency? What emergency?

We’re living in a time of emergencies – national and international – but you really wouldn’t think so from the way we’re going on.

Now, accuse me of opportunism to pick a day like today to talk about emergencies if you like, but when would be a good time to talk about them given that they aren’t going to go away any time soon?

For starters, you might think it mere opportunism to pick a day when the Met Office is issuing red warnings for heat to remind everyone of the climate crisis.

But there are millions of people in this country who still believe it’s a myth. This is mainly because populist newspapers and flaky websites (often funded by the oil industry) work hard to appeal to their wishful thinking, with the usual mixture of distortions, exaggerations and downright lies.

And it might seem like opportunism to pick a day when a senior military figure has warned that Russia will remain a threat for decades to come to remind everyone we have full-scale war going on in Europe for the first time since 1945.

Yet we’re still fuzzily telling ourselves that NATO conventional forces, which all its members have spent the 30 years since the Cold War running down, will save us if it widens. But, just as in 1939, years of telling ourselves expansionist dictators aren’t a threat has taken its toll. We now urgently need to replace our piecemeal approach to rearming Ukraine and rebuilding our own forces with a much more robust approach.

And again, it might seem like opportunism to remind everyone on a day with news of rising hospitalisations that the pandemic, which has now killed 200,000 British people (and millions worldwide), shows no signs of going away – even if politicians find it expedient to pretend that it has.

Medical science is anxiously watching for a new strain and all we’ve got to counter that is optimism. Yet with the NHS teetering on the verge of collapse, politicians are arguing over how much to cut taxes.

Finally, it might sound like opportunism to remind everyone that the economy, battered by the pandemic, recovering far more feebly than the rest of Europe and now under massive attack from rising energy and food prices, faces a bleak future.

And yet, and yet… while all these things are reflected in the media, you get a strong undercurrent of them pandering to people who hope it will all go away. Much of the media’s recent attention has focused on chaos at airports as people scramble to board the planes which contribute so strongly to the climate crisis and waste so much of the world’s increasingly scarce and expensive oil supplies.

It’s a bit reminiscent of the crowds who lined the streets in 1938 to greet Neville Chamberlain’s return from Munich proclaiming: “Peace in our time”. Less than a year later, it was war in their time.

I’m not trying to spread gloom (honestly), but we need to refocus and we need to do so urgently. This will necessitate a big change in the public mindset – the sort of change that coronavirus managed to achieve.

Addressing the climate emergency needs radical action and a lot of investment – the sort of investment that could revive a flagging economy even if some of it is made by the public sector. We need to switch the focus of house building from market homes to social renting. We need to ensure that virtually all new homes come equipped with solar panels and heat pumps.

And we need to ignore the drivel in the populist press about how expensive it would be. How expensive will gas-fired boilers become?

Transport, our major area of greenhouse gas emissions, needs action too. Building major roads must end and be replaced by investment in public transport (especially rail-based) and active travel. The expensive, ill-designed and ill-connected HS2 project needs an urgent, independent review to see what’s worth saving and what isn’t. Investment needs to focus first on urban rail.

We need to ignore the drivel in the populist press about the right to drive/fly etc.. How expensive will petrol, diesel and aviation fuel soon be?

And we need to stop building on our precious farmland as nature has just given us a big warning that we really can’t expect it to deliver all the food and water it did in the past.

A Smart Growth approach, linking sustainability in planning and transport planning, needs to be central to the approach throughout the rest of the 2020s and beyond.

The detail of what we need to tackle our security and medical needs adequately would be rather a lot to tackle in a blog on Smart Growth. But I do know that a crash programme of installation of low-carbon heating technology and urban rail technology, using home-based industries as far as possible, could do a great deal for our increasingly enfeebled economy.

It’s a time of emergencies. But perhaps the biggest emergency is our fear of facing up to them.

Jon Reeds