Climate Change – Does Anyone Care?
The problem about a crisis like climate change is that if you talk about it long enough, after a while it doesn’t actually seem so bad. If you run endless conferences on it, listen to Al Gore enough, watch politicians make big ‘save the planet’ speeches, and allow it to slip into your general vocabulary, it’s no longer the scary one to wake you up in the wee small hours.
It’s a bit like living next door to the neighbour who you know to be a Mafia boss. Through time, and unless his activities affect your life, he slips into the background. Dimly aware that dodgy guys in dark glasses, leather jackets and fast limos drive up next door at all hours, rather strange muffled thumping noises are occasionally heard in the night, and that deals are being done that will end up hurting other people, you just get on with your life. I mean your neighbour drops a nice Christmas present by and even loaned you his mower when your machine broke down. Seems a pleasant enough chap, even if you can’t see anything when you look into his eyes.
Climate change is like living next door to the Mafia. It has been with us as a serious political and scientific issue since 1988. The Toronto Conference of that same year set the first target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to be agreed at an international conference. Since then the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has carried out exhaustive scientific reviews. The Kyoto Protocol has come and, by 2012, it will lapse. The reality that the catastrophic failure at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December last year has derailed the political process is now becoming all too clear. George Monbiot’s biting analysis in the Guardian recently summed up the extent of that failure. www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/
USA politics is set to drop further back in even acknowledging the science of man-made climate change, aided by the so-called grassroots Tea Party phenomena ripping through the Republican Party washingtonpost.com/tea_party. By not even admitting the existence of the (Climate Change) Mafia next door, many Americans have slipped into infantile-like denial and a naïve belief that it is all a conspiracy by scientists/left-wingers/the UN/the Europeans (circle your particular hate group). Australia has slipped back from its carbon tax and resources tax commitment last after the Labour Party’s self-inflicted own-goal forced a General Election and a razor thin majority. China meanwhile asserted herself as the new No 1 Kid on the block in the final small hours at Copenhagen and called the shots when it really mattered. Having bought up a lot of Western nations debt in the past few years, everyone listens when China talks these days.
It’s the economic crisis that has now taken centre stage in the media and political process. Banks, recession, budget cuts and jobs. Climate change warrants an obligatory place in a politician’s speech but is no longer the centre-piece. Scientists publishing evidence of dire deterioration in the trends of warming or extreme weather events is not front page news. When you allow the most serious issue affecting human beings on this Planet to slip to page 5 or a short paragraph on page 2, you know we are in big trouble.
For a Hollywood script-writer, the scenario as we lurch towards 2012 is a gold-mine. The film: ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ was criticised by some as alarmist and scientifically unrealistic when it came out a few years ago. Watching it again recently I was struck by how prescient some of it felt. Political inertia, climate denial by the US, and scientists being ignored by politicians who found their conclusions far too inconvenient.
So where do we go from here? And does anyone actually care about resolving the pollution, energy, deforestation and agricultural crises that is the cause of climatic change?
Politically, it seems that any international Climate agreement worth the paper it is written on is about as likely as the new head of Barclays Bank donating all his salary and bonus’s to charity. China will ensure that is the case, even if the Europeans still have the stomach for tough cuts in emissions. Which leaves Europe in a dilemma, as the EU industrial lobbies will argue strongly that for the EU to go it alone will add extra costs and make them uncompetitive against the developing world and the US. Our nascent clean energy lobbies are as yet probably too small to swing the debate decisively.
Even though the European wind industry supported an estimated 192,000 jobs in early 2010 and estimated this was likely to grow to 450,000 by 2020, this is still small compared to oil, gas and the conventional power sector. It could however be massive within a few years. A recent report by Greenpeace indicated that 6.5 million jobs in the global renewable energy sector alone (3 times the current level) could exist by 2020. Many more in the energy efficiency and alternative transport sectors would also be created in the ‘Energy Revolution’ scenario they explore. www.greenpeace.org/
Potentially however, any momentum on a major transition to a clean energy and lower-carbon food system could get significantly delayed by political inertia. Take a sector that I know well – biomass (wood) heating. After the ‘Feed-in Tariffs’ (FIT) for small-scale renewable electricity technologies was introduced to the UK this April, the renewable heat sector was promised a Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to kick off next April. Since the Coalition came into power there has been no clear statement on support for this and all the signals are that it will be ditched for another watered down measure. The Green Alliance have recently shown that with sensible modifications to the initial RHI proposal the actual costs of the measure would be very modest www.green-alliance. . The net effect of the grpwing hiatus has been to put huge uncertainty into a sector that was gearing up for significant growth. Biomass also offers a set of mature heating technologies that offer pretty cost-effective heating (usually cheaper than oil and cheaper than gas in larger installations). It also provides employment for the hard-pressed forestry sector. At present biomass heating is facing a major hiatus as potential clients delay making orders until the political direction is clear. Flat-lining order books and 3-day weeks are no way to prepare for growth and a major technological transition.
For the public who are facing big uncertainty over employment and massive cuts in services, they are likely to be more susceptible to arguments that push for moderating emissions cuts and longer timelines.
The net result of all this? Uncertainty. Delays. Inaction. Faltering growth. Cynicism.
If you live next door to the Mafia, denial is not a long-term option. Do you wait for shots in the night? A dead body in the woods nearby? Local services including your pub taken over by them? A corrupted local council and MP? Or do you act now when you can? Climate change needs action now, not when the fourth extreme tornado rips through London or Birmingham or repeated floods turn your community into an insurance red-line area.
Thank God at least that many local communities are going full out to reduce their carbon footprints and are not swayed by international political chaos. People are taking action because it is the right thing to do and this is what can give us some hope. Banning the ubiquitous plastic bag often leads to many other actions on transport, energy, farmers markets and local food awareness. Small funds available for local renewable businesses help seed projects and change at a grassroots level. Transition Town initiatives are spreading rapidly throughout the UK as people are increasingly planning for resilience, using local resources and reducing reliance on imports.
On its own, not enough to solve the big climate crisis. But it’s a start and people do care.
Stewart Boyle – 22nd September 2010 (I’ll be writing more on local initiatives in future)Read More...