Thursday, 18 June 2009

Getting serious about climate change

So now we know what climate change means for us in the UK- within a range- from today's publication of UK climate projections. The UK will be a hotter country, wetter in Winter, dryer in Summer, and temperatures seem set to rise by 3.9°C taking the South East as an example by 2080 on the 50% scenario. Chris Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency, has an even starker warning:

"These new projections remind us starkly of the choices we face in ensuring a sustainable future for our fragile planet. A failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions will lead to a battle for survival for mankind and many other species across the globe by the end of this century; and we will feel the effects here in the UK too."

For the UK, in practical terms this means more deaths from heat-waves, a change in our eco-system with unknown effects, more floods, and massive economic adaptation costs. And we are one of the lucky ones. Imagine if you are in Bangladesh, or Kenya, or the Middle East. Imagine how ferocious the competition for resources will become: food, land, water, energy. And yet world leaders continue to act as if climate change is like a household chore- something we'll get round to manana, willing to say anything to assuage the naggings of one's partner.

Actually, the British government have rapidly cottoned on to the importance of climate change. However, there is still quite a way to go. It is fine for us to manage our emissions. But what of our emissions elsewhere? I have done a number of Google searches in writing this blog, but where was the energy from those searches emitted? In the Nevadan desert somewhere? The computer I'm using was made in China. Surely I should bear the costs of the emissions used in making it and the externalities of the transport to get it to me? It should be a matter of the polluter pays.

Beyond that, we are only half-heartedly developing the green economy. This is where the Green party has a real contribution to make in proposing a Green New Deal that will lead to the creation of 1 million jobs. Thomas Friedman in his Hot, Flat and Crowded wrote that he wanted the US to become the Saudi Arabia of green. Well, that should be us.

The numbers are huge- the Green's plan will cost £45billion but at least they have kick started a debate about a different tomorrow- one where we avoid these large and potentially catastrophic climate increases. It will also mean that we need to develop a different approach to our society and become a nation that values investment and the long-term more than short-termism and consumption.

In the European elections I did a number of hustings on the environment and got to debate against Felicity Norman and Vicky Dunn who were candidates for the Green party in the West Midlands. They were both extremely articulate, measured, knowledgeable and clear. There was none of the 'capitalism is evil' rhetoric I was expecting. If this is the type of Green party that we will see in the future then their voice is an important one on the political scene. It makes electoral reform even more of an issue as these voices have an articulate case that needs to be heard within our political system, not just in campaign hustings.

We need to do everything we can to combat climate change- it is going to leave our world in an unimaginable mess. The international cooperation, the investment, the challenge to the lives we lead, the new way of thinking about ourselves and our relation to the world are all desirable anyway. We know it's right so let's find a way of arguing it convincingly and placing it at the forefront of a national mission for change.

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