WHY TARGET LOCAL COUNCILS?
Every local council is different but they are all regulated by central government, for example on planning and housing quotas. They will often complain that they can't do certain things because their hands are tied, or they have to do certain things because of central government legislation. This does not mean that they have to approve environmentally-damaging projects, or that they can't retrofit buildings, or stop unnecessary high-emissions activities such as demolition and rebuild when they could refurbish, or expand roads or build bypasses destroying woodland. They can choose not to bank with Barclays, the highest investor in fossil fuels of any bank in Europe – $150 billion since the 2016 ratification of the Paris Accord (https://marketforces.org.uk/barclays). They also can choose not to invest in fossil fuel companies via their pension fund.
THE CLIMATE AND ECOLOGICAL EMERGENCY
Under threat of extinction:
It is now generally accepted that limiting global warming to 1.5°C average global surface temperature rise (AGST) is no longer possible because we have not acted in time to reduce CO2 emissions and we are still not doing so. With the now projected 2° increase, extreme hot days will be 4° hotter than pre-industrial levels. 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates will lose their geographic range. The Arctic ocean will become completely ice-free every 10 years. Coral reefs will die off completely, with the loss of marine and coastal ecosystems. Annual fish catches will decrease by more than 3 million tonnes. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever will expand their geographic range. There will be a marked decline in crop and livestock production globally. Populations in the global south are likely to die in their millions, and millions more will try to reach the global north.
Local authorities have to get serious about the climate and ecological crisis. Is your LA committed to achieving net zero? If so by when? What are they doing to implement this target? Populations of the UK's most important wildlife have plummeted on average by 60% since 1970, some by as much as 98%, and the decline shows no signs of slowing. Is your authority aware of this? Does it have a plan to rewild unused or marginal land? To partner with your local wildlife trust in reforestation? To create cycle paths in towns and along main roads? To improve public transport so people aren't so dependent on cars?
GOVERNMENT'S 10-POINT BODGE
Central government is failing to act on the climate and ecological emergency. In its 10 point plan published in November 2020 it promised to reduce emissions by 68% from 1998 levels by 2030. This is only a 1% reduction compared with the 45% required under the Paris agreement. While only £12bn is allocated to green renewal, the government is still committed to funding over £100bn on HS2, £27bn on new roads, £21bn on overseas gas and oil projects, £7.5bn in bailouts to large nature-damaging businesses and £8 million on airport expansion. The government also excludes emissions from international aviation, shipping and imports in its calculations.
The Government-appointed Climate Change Committee stated in June 2021: ‘ The Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan … has yet to be backed with firm policies.’ In the same month the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee stated ‘the Minister has rowed back on the commitment given to us that the Government would provide a … point-by-point response to the recommendations in the Citizens’ Assembly’s ambitious report.’
Early in 2021 the government scrapped its grant scheme to help people with the cost of insulating their homes which would have significantly reduced CO2 emissions.
What power do individuals have? Government and big business want us to think that it's up to individuals to change our behaviour and not them. While it's true that the rich frequent flyers and those who eat meat three times a day should change their behaviour, individual action makes no difference if government doesn't regulate big business. Tax avoidance through legal loopholes has enabled £36 trillion to be stashed away in offshore tax havens (Reuters, July 22nd 2012). Companies that do business in the UK should pay tax in the UK, same as the rest of us. We powerless small fry don't have the privilege the rich have of squirrelling huge profits away out of the reach of HMRC. Tax law benefits the rich and penalises the poor.
In the last century or so, tax disobedience by the Suffragettes, Mahatma Gandhi and the 1990 Poll Tax rioters all achieved their aims and changed British government policy. There are two main avenues for tax refusal: income tax and council tax. VAT, capital gains tax, death duties and other forms of tax offer less opportunity for whole communities to rebel. Income tax refusal is limited to those who pay income tax directly, such as the self-employed, and is not open to those whose tax is subtracted from earnings or who pay no tax. We all however pay council tax and this is where we can exert leverage.
IT'S HAPPENED MANY TIMES BEFORE
All successful tax rebellions have focused on a single issue. Going back to the 13th century it was the barons who refused to pay King John's war tax and forced him to sign the Magna Carta. In 1525 Henry VIII's Amicable Grant tax was withdrawn after London businessmen refused to comply. In the 1770s, tax rebellion by the American colonies led to the American Revolution and independence from Britain. Gandhi's 1930 Salt Tax March led to the overthrow of British rule in India.