What did you do about Climate Change?

 February 2022

We are probably all familiar with the First World War recruitment poster of the little girl asking her father, ‘What did you do in the Great War, Daddy?’ and the look of shame and guilt on the face of the father who has clearly not yet enlisted. 


So what would be the expression on your face if your daughter, son, grandson or granddaughter were to ask you, ‘What did you do to limit global warming?’ Would you be able to reply with a clear conscience and a comprehensive list of the actions you took?


Just before Christmas I went with two of my grandsons to the Audley End Santa Railway. It was a magical experience, but it was heart-breaking to see so many families arriving in large petrol and diesel SUVs. Taking your children to see Santa is an act of love. How can that possibly be reconciled with driving an SUV? They accounted for 544 megatonnes of CO2 emissions between 2010-2018, far ahead of the emissions of heavy industry, HGVs, aviation and shipping. Indeed, SUVs were second only to power generation as emitters of green house gases.


How is it that people aren’t making the connection between their choices and their children’s future on this small and fragile planet?


COP 26 is now several months behind us and no one is cheering with much enthusiasm. Commentators talked about ‘keeping 1.5 degrees alive,’ but it is very much on life support, with no nurses in sight. We are currently heading for 4.4 degrees of warming by the end of the century. If we include the promises of reductions by member states, we still reach 3.6 degrees. Both outcomes will be utterly catastrophic for human life.  (See the UN Productions Gap Report   https://www.unep.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2021)


On the plus side, there was, for the very first time in 26 years, an explicit reference to ‘phasing down unabated coal power and phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.’ Apart from wondering how it is that it has taken world leaders a quarter of century to name the elephant in the room, this statement leaves the doors of self-destruction wide open: ‘down’ could be merely fractional, and no one has defined what an ‘inefficient’ subsidy is. Presumably we are free to continue with ‘efficient’ fossil fuel subsidies!


There was agreement on methane, but it made no mention of the massive amounts of methane emitted by our meat and dairy industries. Its focus was on inefficient practices of the oil industry that should never have been allowed in the first place. 


One thing had changed though: Politicians were under more pressure than ever before from the public, from activists, from civil society, the Church, aboriginal groups and the nations of the Global South. It is clear that there is no more long grass into which the ball can be kicked.


But democracy is clearly failing us, and I will explore the reasons for that next time....