Climate Change - Who Cares?

Blog 4 Comments

  • Picture of David Middleton FRSA
    David Middleton FRSA
  • Climate change
  • Fellowship
  • Fellowship in Action

Last year I met a couple of people whose views about climate change worried the hell out of me especially when I realised they could represent the views of maybe even the majority of the public. I just don’t know.

My conversation with them came to mind when on February 15th thousands of children across the UK came out on strike. It was a unique happening. They joined a global reaction by youngsters to 15 year old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg’s protest about climate change to the UN meeting in Poland last December. At that meeting a variety of ominous warnings were issued about climate change. Just 13 days after the schoolchildren’s strike, in response to their demand for a parliamentary debate on the subject, such a debate was held in Westminster. Of the 650 MPs who could have been there, around 30 turned up! 

In a world dominated daily by Brexit, Trump, the Vatican scandal, and other headline grabbing disasters, climate change still appears to be something of a Cinderella subject. Yet everything else should fade into insignificance if our planet reaches a stage of not being able to sustain life. Is it that we don’t care, are misinformed, feel inept to do anything about it? Surely it’s not complacency? 

At COP 24 in Katowice in Poland some chilling warning were delivered about climate change. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said: "Climate change is running faster than we are and we must catch up sooner rather than later, before it's too late. For many people, regions and even countries, this is already a matter of life and death” 

Kristalina Georgieva, the CEO of the World Bank, warned: “We are clearly the last generation that can change the course of climate change, but we are also the first generation with its consequences” 

The global audience at COP 24 even heard a warning that “Civilisations are going to collapse and much of nature will be wiped out to extinction if humanity doesn't take urgent action on climate changeThe dire warning came from none other than Sir David Attenborough. 

Green MP Caroline Lucas told the meagre gathering of MPs that even after all of the international conferences and pledges, the Earth is still set to warm by 3-4C. “Time is quickly running out,” she told the few MPs who had turned up for the debate, “to limit warming even to the 1.5C or 2C aspirations of the IPCC. We face a climate emergencyIt calls for unprecedented boldness of vision and a new way of thinking.” 

Her concerns are justified.  Despite global political commitments made in Kyoto in1997 which mandated industrialized nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, growth in energy use from fossil-fuel sources still outpaces the rise of low-carbon sources. CO2 emissions grew by 1.6% in 2017 and are expected to have grown a further 2.7% in 2018 to a record level.  

Despite massive growth in renewables in China, the even more massive rise in their use of energy has pushed CO2 emissions up by 3% – the biggest rise since 2013. 

Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith referred to last year’s UN report on climate changeHe told the Westminster meeting: “If you look at the trends, we are not heading for that apocalyptic 2 degree rise (highlighted in the report), we are heading towards something that looks more like 3 degrees, the consequences of which we cannot possibly estimate.” 

My own view is that we need a unilateral step change in how our civilisation functions on our home planet. Unquestionably there is something of a revolution taking place even though many people do not recognise it as such. I find it incredulous to see how fast we are moving away from our historic reliance on fossil fuelled combustion engines to clean technology. I was delighted when towards the end of last year Britain’s renewable energy industry hit a major milestone after the total renewables capacity overtook that of fossil fuels for the first time. Renewable energy capacity in the UK has tripled over the past five years with significant growth in solar farms and offshore wind farms being connected to the grid. I am amazed to hear that a local authority (Warrington Borough Council) will be the first UK-based local authority to generate all its own energy. The news comes with the announcement of two massive solar farms and a 27MW battery storage facility set to be installed in the North West before the end of next year. Fantastic! 

This is all good stuff but not the global step change needed to keep ahead of the challenge. But is there a challenge? Harking back to those people I met last year, one a retired industrialist, the other an elderly educated lady. The former would not, despite my best endeavours, consider climate change as being anything more than a natural, cyclic phenomenon 

“It’s happened before. We’ve had ice ages and we’ve had hot periods. It’s cyclic. Nothing to do with industrialisation.” 

And the lady? Her view of climate change?  “Hotter summers! More deck chair time. Bring it on!” 

If these are in any way representative views of the British public no wonder MPs did not attend the debate. It is clearly not a vote winner.  

David Middleton, FRSA, is the retired former CEO of the UK branch of the Wold Business Council for Sustainable Development (14 years) and founder and CEO of the MEBC, the Midlands environmental business network (22 years). He now helps produce a major conference a year and writes Bond-like novels as a way of raising awareness about sustainability issues.

Join the discussion


Please login to post a comment or reply

Don't have an account? Click here to register.

  • Dear David we do need a significant change. Here are some people offering up interesting and plausible solutions:

  • Thanks David - there are various ways we could begin to address this peculiar syndrome (of denial/ignorance/avoidance of the issues of climate change). Im scoping the potential of a kind of optimistic eco-action app that draws together all the positive aspects of tackling climate change - from philosophical insights, re-wilding, permaculture, sustainable and energy positive housing, ever-present alt energy sources (esp tidal, geothermal, hydro - new energy grids, green transport, wind-power/tidal power/solar-power shipping,) - all the challenges of engineering and design we are now tackling in prototype. And all the actions we can take to reduce our own carbon footprints - a kind of Eco-Action Briefing - using partially the same interconnection engine I prototyped in my media inspiratorium. We need to temper the existential warnings with examples of how to tackle the issues.

  • Thanks for the timely reminder David.  As a species, we are not evolved to respond well to long term gradual threats.  We also have no intuitive grasp of exponential growth.  The Youth Strike for Climate and Extinction Rebellion movements are growing exponentially.  On 15/Feb, about 40 students gathered in Brum.  On 15/March hundreds defied rules and threats to call on Birmingham Council to declare a climate emergency.  Since the UN report last October, nearly 60 UK councils and hundreds more worldwide have done just that.

    Climate change is a test of our social evolution. Either our global technical "civilisation" will evolve and deal with the crisis, or it will crash like Easter Island and many more civilisations explored in Jared Diamond's book "Collapse".

    Business as usual will wreck the eco systems which sustain us.  We need to join or at least support people of all ages and nations who are being disruptive and forcing our politicians to wake up and take action.

  • I've always wondered what the inhabitants of easter island thought as they took down the last tree. how could they have been so stupid to eliminate all resources. who made the decision? how many protested that this was a bad idea and how many laughed that nature would always grow trees as this is a natural cycle??  The collapse of Easter Island proves humans are short sighted and the current times prove we have not learnt from the collapse of previous civilisations. if this is a natural cycle we had better prepare and adapt quickly as this means there is nothing we can do to stop the changes that are happening to the planet. Afterall, how many people lived through an ice age or periods of extreme heat? if we have exacerbated the change through our actions of pollution and emissions then we should do all we can to slow the rate of change to limit the destruction of our civilisations. but how can we get the masses to accept that change has to happen and that it is the responsibility of every human on the planet? i only wish i had an answer.

Related articles

  • Everyday deliberation and climate action

    Abigail Campbell

    All eyes are on Climate Assembly UK in Birmingham this month. But across our region, RSA Fellows are leading the way on smaller-scale deliberative events on the climate emergency.

  • Shape your pledge and go viral

    Carolina Karlstrom FRSA

    #reducenotabuse #useyourlips #closeyourdoortostraws These hashtags are pledges made by 19 young geography students from RSA Academy, Tipton, at a recent workshop I led in Birmingham, part of Making Places Last, a conference developed with and supported by the RSA Sustainability Network.

  • RSA Watch Oxford: Climate change and leadership

    Graham Wilson

    Graham Wilson FRSA explains the most recent RSA Watch event in Oxford that focused on RSA content around climate change.