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 change”. The 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 emergency. It 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 change. He 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. www.davidmiddletoncommunications.uk.