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Lauren James on the Bystander Effect, Climate Curriculum and the Green Party

According to NASA, climate change was first predicted in 1896, shortly followed by Guy Callendar connecting carbon dioxides’ impact on the Earth’s atmosphere in 1938. Yet it took another 32 years for climate worry to be recognised.

In 1972, the UN held the First Earth Summit in Stockholm, Sweden. It was only in 1988 that climate change became a national issue. Fast forward over thirty years, and we’re still witnessing ignorance from leaders globally.

We spoke with Newport’s first Green Councillor, Lauren James, to discuss her experiences with the Green Party, the need for climate action and her thoughts on why the catastrophe has been ignored for so long.

Having been a staffer for the Green Party for several years, Lauren previously served as the party’s deputy leader prior to her role now. Preceding this, Lauren hosted a Mummy blog which taught her Communication and Social Media skills which became central to her role within the party.

However, Lauren hasn’t always been interested in politics: ‘It’s been a journey of finding my own voice and using that to speak up for other people. It helps that I’m quite an opinionated person in general, so if I see something wrong, I’ll say it,’ she says.

As for her interest in a fairer, greener country, her experience in school had little to do with this: ‘Climate wasn’t a huge conversation in school. I remember in Year 4, we had a class about reduce, reuse, recycle and that was interesting. There were tiny pockets of it, but it certainly didn’t prepare me for what we live in now,’

‘My children’s experiences are very different to mine. Not only are they talking about it [climate change] more, but the primary school has garden planters where kids will grow their own plants and learn about their local environment in a way that I certainly didn’t when I was in school.’

For Lauren, expanding the discourse around climate change is of great importance. The Welsh curriculum is expected to see a significant change later this year, something which she heavily supports.

‘At the moment, we have a very traditional curriculum where you have to learn this thing by this age; otherwise you are ‘behind’ and that’s a very bad thing, but that just doesn’t work. Not just in the context of climate change, but in our constantly evolving landscape,’ she says.

She adds that our education around the climate is of equal importance to our political knowledge, saying that: ‘We all need democracy. Democracy is the vehicle by which we all have a voice and a choice. For Greens, democracy means a fair voting system, so proportional. It’s inclusive. It also means teaching children about how democracy works.

‘Green democracy is a democracy that looks out for everyone. It makes sure everyone has a voice. A fair, proportional voting system is a key cornerstone of that.’

But she stresses the importance of climate action starting with the individual too.

‘Climate action needs to happen at every level, not just parliamentary but parliament set the parameters in which the market will operate. We’ve already seen what the market has done to our planet – the rising temperatures and carbon levels. When they’re allowed just to exploit because they can, they will, and they’re still going now.

‘Look at Shell, BP, record profits, off the back of people struggling to pay their bills. It’s not good enough. Parliaments have the power to put a stop to it, and so they’ve got to,’ she says.

Image Credit: Lauren James

Lauren fears that climate change is still seen as an abstract to many: ‘When people are struggling to put food on the table, they’re not thinking about how that food was produced. We’ve struggled to make it feel real to the people who will vote for it. That’s a challenge that the Green party has had for a long time.’

‘When we had our surge in 2015, there was a real noticeable change in the rhetoric that the other parties were using at the time. Since then, climate change has shot up in the agenda, but ultimately, it’s about bringing that relatability to voters that will get It through into that power.’

As the climate worsens and more people recognise the need for change, we wonder why it’s been ignored for so long.

‘The first best time to act on climate change was 40 years ago, and the second-best time is now. We are at a point where some climate change will be locked in, but there is a choice to be had here. Do we want temperatures to shoot up 2,3,4 degrees, or do we want to keep them at a more manageable level?’

Lauren adds that we’ve seen the impact of climate change in other countries, including the recent wildfires across Europe. This is the closest they’ve ever been to us and something which is only likely to increase in frequency. She adds: ‘We can’t wait until the wildfires are in our gardens.’

‘Some countries will feel far away enough that they think it’s not a problem, when actually that is the problem. But because it’s a huge problem, people think someone else will solve it. I remember reading the Bystander Effect.’

The Bystander Effect is a scenario based around a group of people. If someone fell within a small group of people, everyone would check. Whereas in a crowd, there’s a shared responsibility where everyone believes that someone else will check on the fallen.

‘With climate change, it affects the entire planet; it affects all of us. Sometimes there can be an assumption that someone else will come and fix it for you. That’s not how it works – everyone should be trying to do the best that they can on an individual level.’

Lauren encourages everyone to be more active in both their environmental and political decisions, advising that: ‘If you really care about climate change and you want this solved, then you’ve got to be making decent choices in what you buy, whom you vote for, and you’ve got to do all of that and you’ve got to be doing it now and talking about it with your friends and families as well. We’ve got to hit that point where no politician can really say people don’t care about this.’

As for Lauren, her time with the Green Party couldn’t be more appreciated: ‘It’s a massive privilege to me to be working for and fighting for causes that I care about. I feel like I can almost devote my life to helping with this. It’s a really good feeling to know that you’re on the right side of history. You know you’re fighting for the things that matter.’

She closes: ‘Everyone should be more actively involved in politics and involved in shaping the world around them.‘

To find out more about Lauren and her wonderful work, please click here.

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