This one is for the Extinction Rebellion. As an XR member, this is why our movement matters.
The climate change debate – Rumbling on since the 1800s
You’d be forgiven for thinking climate change is a relatively new thing, and the details are only just being discovered. But, as it turns out, climate change has been on the scientific menu since the late 1800s when the planet’s natural greenhouse effect was first discovered. And that was when scientists first began to suspect that human emissions could change the wider climate, ultimately affecting the weather.
During the 1960s CO2 emerged as the main culprit for the global heat-up that’s been going on for so long. The ’70s saw scientific opinion warming to the idea, and throughout the 1980s scientists issued ever-more serious warnings about the effects of greenhouse gases and the potential effect they could have on the world’s climate.
In the 1990s dramatic leaps in computer processing power meant computer models could finally be blended with mass observations to confirm the Milankovitch theory of the ice ages. Ordinary people started to realise that greenhouse gases really were involved in climate change, and that humans were mostly responsible. Governments took note, but decided not to act.
Since then research into climate change has boomed. And now, as predicted, human-caused emissions are driving noticeable global warming. We have a much better understanding of the causal relationships behind it, and we’re modelling potential scenarios until we’re blue in the face, but governments around the world are sliding further into denial.
Regular Assessment Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reveal changes in all sorts of essential patterns, from the way the ocean’s current circulate to the way plants are reacting to more CO2 in the atmosphere. Human-induced changes to the natural world are taking place at record speed right now. We are not waiting for climate change to happen, we’re living with it. And still the world’s governments do nothing.
Why is climate change is such a tricky political issue?
Modern politics is all about the short term. In most democracies a political party and its leader can only remain in power for a limited time, followed by an election to decide who’s in power next. This is bad for climate change – and bad for long-term planning in general – because it means politicians have a short-term focus, and a lot of that focus is wasted on doing things designed to win the next election. To win an election you need popular policies that people like. And, closing the circle, most policies designed to mitigate climate change are not popular with the people, as President Macron in France discovered when he tried to bring in higher taxes for fuel.
Climate change mitigation policies are not always popular
Other ways to mitigate climate change are equally unpopular. Nobody wants to be told not to fly, even though air travel is one of the biggest contributors to CO2 emissions. Nobody enjoys being told that the cruise ship they’re about to embark on emits a scandalous amount of CO2 and ships in general are responsible for around 2.5% of total emissions. And not everyone wants to stop eating meat and fish altogether, even though intensive farming methods are driving a shocking amount of climate-warming pollution. If you just left your computer on standby and wandered off for an hour or two, you’re doing a bad thing. If it involves electricity, gas or oil we have to start thinking very carefully about how we use it, when we use it, and even if we should use it at all.
Climate change and the human condition
The worst thing about climate change is that it’s so vast, so all-encompassing. Can you think of anything more fundamentally frightening than the planet you love – your only home – turning against you? Or the weather becoming so unpredictable that crops can’t reliably be grown, food supplies run short and water wars break out?
If you find it hard to think about, you’re not alone. We all do. As as a parent, how do you cope with the idea that your children might suffer terribly during their lives thanks to a Wild West of a global climate? It’s not surprising so many people stick their fingers in their metaphorical ears and start humming when global warming is mentioned. For a lot of folk it’s far too awful to contemplate.
A perfect storm
The result of all these different factors coming together is a perfect storm the like of which we’ve never seen before. Governments across the globe are paralysed by an economic system that doesn’t work at under the unique circumstances we face. Rampant consumerism and the Western capitalist model are hindering progress, focused on the short term, money and constant growth rather than the long term and common sense. Politicians are too busy worrying about themselves and their careers, parents are paralysed with horror at the thought of the future their kids might have to endure.
Who’s left to protest? We are. The bold, the brave, the innovative thinkers, the empathisers, the justice-seekers, the put-your-cock-on-the-blockers. Hopefully there are millions of us around the world, and together we’re already making the non-thinkers and non-acters both think, and act.
The proof is overwhelming
Right now I’m searching Google. I type in ‘Climate Change’ and I get 81 million results. That’s 81 million mentions of it, just from my nearest Google data centre. Yours might return even more. Every year for the past 40 years has been warmer than the 1900s average. 2016 was the hottest year… ever. The 12 hottest years ever recorded have all happened since 1998. And the past 130 years has seen the average global average temperature shoot up 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, more than half of which has taken place during the last 35 years, within a lot of people’s living memory. Things are dire, things are desperate, but there’s a tiny window we can take advantage of, if only we can change and change NOW.
Politicians have to stop delaying change
In the UK, the Conservative Party has trashed every single clean energy initiative on the table during their time in power. They’re not supporting wind power, or solar, or anything else. But they decided, last time XR took to the streets, to announce a Climate Emergency. Since then what have they done? Bugger all, zip, zilch, nada, nothing, a big fat zero.
In fact, following our recent climate protests in London, the Conservative government insisted it was a world leader in climate change policy. Sadly that’s fake news. The UK government’s pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is nowhere near dramatic enough, and that means it’s down to us. It looks like our movement is needed more than ever. Together we can make it happen. We have to.