Thursday, 14 July 2016

Dear Mrs May, While You Were Away, The World Died

Britain has existed for most of the last two months in a state between the abstract and surreal as our political class - Remainers and Brexiteers alike - have suffered a collective loss of nerve. For three weeks, or maybe three months, we have drifted, rudderless while the would-be crews of our battered ship of state smashed up every compass they could find and then blamed each other for breaking them.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the acclamation of Theresa May as the new Prime Minister and the appointment of her Cabinet might start to signal a recovery, but far from it, especially on the one overriding issue of our time. For while our Remainers and Brexiteers were battling like they were still at the Oxford Union, a critical news report was issued which should have humanity in full-on crisis mode. But instead, it passed virtually without comment.

That is that we face a third record-breaking warm year in a row after both 2014 and 2105 smashed previous records. And in terms of 12 monthly cycles, the once record breaking October 1997 to September 1998 period has fallen from top to 60th place. While the current temperatures have been boosted to an extent by a strong El Nino, that natural phenomenon is only breaking records because of human-driven global warming underlying it.

Our world is heating up at a rate of between 20 and 50 times that of any natural warming.

This is so fast, so ahead of even many of the more pessimistic science models and so exponentially outclassing any political decisions or practical action, that there is a growing view that we are fooling ourselves if we think for a moment that we can hold global warming to 2 degrees centigrade. 

And next came this: in such a scenario, now seemingly inevitable, the impact on the world's biosystems and, crucially, on the photoplankton in our carbon-saturated seas will be such that before the end of the century, the Earth will begin to run low on breathable air. 

So what is Theresa May's response to this?

One of her first acts as Prime Minister has been to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change. 

Energy, with some aspects of climate change, has been ominously merged with trade and idustrial strategy, while Andrea Leadsom has been appointed Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Leadsom does say she was persuaded climate change is real after asking about it, but she has been particularly critical of the UK's obligations under European regulations to develop clean energy and reduce carbon emissions and she is as keen to dismantle them as any other aspect of the EU. Like some latter-day Bourbon, her main concerns are to talk about lowland farmers breeding sheep and uplanders fostering butterfly meadows. Yet just a few days ago, a 2,000 page report from the Committee on Climate Change advised that Britain is woefully poorly prepared for the impact of global warming and forsees summers of heat stress deaths and regular temperatures of 48C in London.

While Brexit gains its own Secretary of State and fully staffed Department, the biggest threat in history is downgraded, scattered between departments and disappears from view. Tories may try to sound reassuring - but as Labour's Ed Miliband, himself a former Environment Secretary tweeted, "departments shape priorities, shape outcomes." With a full pair of Tory eyes on industry, what chance for real action on climate change? After all, as Green Party Energy Speaker Cllr Andrew Cooper has pointed out, their track record on climate change since 2010 has been literally a lot of hot air.

With neoliberalism and its inexorable drive to commodify and profit ceaselessly continuing to hold sway on economic orthodoxy, like a crushing girdle round our world, few of the deep changes needed to stop the existential threat of global warming have been taken - only economic recession offers any brief respite in the inexorable growth of carbon emissions. And our time to act is nearly over. Climate change is fast, but its remedies can't be implemented when it has taken full hold, or even near that. By then, so many barriers will have been broken, so many thresholds crossed and aeons of carbon and methane unlocked into our atmosphere, that no amount of emergency action will be enough to save our species.

Leadsom infamously made much of her investment in her children and grand-children's futures during her brief foray into the Tory leadership election. Tories gasped and complained that this was loathsome - Theresa May, who has no children, was as focussed on the future as she was, they insisted.

Yet, as they gassed away, neither of them seem to have grasped that the key to any human future is a liveable habitat and that this is now in deeply serious, imminent jeopardy. Whether sons or daughters, nephews or nieces, neighbours kids, friends' offspring or maybe even someone down the street or on the other side of the world, any failure to act decisively now on climate change is putting these already-born children's futures seriously in doubt.

Below: Australian family trapped by wildfires in 2013, when record temperatures up to 54C required an entirely new heat band to be created by the weather sevice. (from Shades of Purple: Australia is Burning)

1 comment:

  1. We need to campaign for a new global agreement to limit carbon extraction at source instead of carbon emissions. It is true that nations can control their own emissions more easily, but this leaves too much wriggle room to get around limits, such as carbon offsets and exporting emissions. A world wide agreement on a steadily reducing carbon extraction quota, allocated to nations by population will control climate change and redistribute wealth to developing nations. Nothing short of this or a similar plan will do the job.