This Saturday (March 7) marks two months to go until the UK General Election and I will be joining thousands of other protesters on the streets of London on the Time to Act march to demand for more governmental action to tackle climate change.
By being part of this march, we will be asking political leaders to put climate on the table by taking ambitious domestic actions and to help drive forward a global deal in Paris at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations this December.
This is a huge year for the climate, not least because it offers the most tangible opportunity in the past six years to broker a legally binding global agreement but also because this opportunity comes at a time that the planet is reaching a climate tipping point. Last year was the hottest on record, with record-high sea levels reached. It forms part of a worrying trend; 14 of the hottest 15 years on record have occurred in the 21st century. In fact, nobody born after 1976 has ever lived through a year of below-average global temperatures – meaning that the last time the Earth was functioning below climatic equilibrium, The Three Degrees were more likely to be playing on the radio than being discussed as a last-ditch adaptation goal by panic-strewn policy makers.
We are so socially conditioned to ignoring the climate problem that, as Naomi Klein argues in her latest book, we’ve become “politically, physically and culturally” locked-in to a global economy that is at war with its own natural resources without so much as a second thought. Unsurprisingly, the 2007 Stern Review named climate change as “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen”.
Yet political reaction to these warnings has been painfully slow. Governments continue to inject billions of pounds into protecting and preserving their own institutions, as if they exist in ecological vacuums and not within wider natural systems that are on the brink of collapse. Environmental devastation undermines development and fuels social unrest. In 2013, three times as many people were displaced by natural disasters than were displaced by war.
Despite this, global military spending in the same year was US$1.75 trillion, compared to just US$364 billion spent on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Ironically, at a time when global security remains at the top of foreign policy agendas, climate change threatens to devastate the very regions into which governments are pouring time and money. And all the while, the probability that human beings are the dominant cause of current temperature rises has continued to rise to reach near scientific certainty.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
As well as destructive technology, we humans also possess the technological know-how to diverge from fossil fuels, a sentiment echoed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its most recent and comprehensive assessment report yet. And the evidence of this is clear – LEDs are changing the way we light up the world and, as EIA has shown, climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs are changing the way we cool down on the ever-warming planet. In fact, a recent study by the German Government suggested that if China were to adopt more climate-friendly air conditioning systems just in its cars, it could reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 per cent. If that’s not smart science, then I don’t know what is..
Yet, all the while, some of the best available technology for fighting climate change is being destroyed every day. There’s more CO2 stored in the world’s forests than in the atmosphere, so why are we bulldozing our natural carbon sinks in the name of economic growth?
We possess a unique opportunity to avoid total climatic collapse by grasping the technological possibilities that lie before us, but only if we do so now. It’s time to put pressure on our policy leaders to take ‘green’ issues off the back burner and decarbonise their economies.
And never before has it been so popular to champion climate action. Last week, President Obama’s decision to veto Republican-backed legislative plans to widen and extend the Keystone pipeline, which sends oil from Canada to refineries in the southern states of the US, sent shockwaves throughout the oil and gas industry. The move marked only the third veto of Obama’s Presidency and his first since 2010.
From a climate perspective, Obama’s decision to block the bill will undoubtedly be claimed as a victory for environmentalists who have argued from the outset that the industry-funded political lobby for Keystone seeks to lock in the benefits of dead-end fossil fuels for generations to come. Obama himself has voiced concerns that expanding crude oil operations in Canadian oil fields will stain the American character and prove incompatible with climate goals.
While the eventual outcome of Keystone hangs in the balance for now, the Obama administration’s aversion to the plans sets the bar high for prospective Presidential candidates looking to bury their heads and spades in the sand when cleaner, greener technologies are readily available. Perhaps the opposition in this case would do better to take heed from the change in voting behaviour among its electorate; recent polls suggest that 68 per cent of American voters, including half of all Republicans, would be more likely to vote for a candidate who backs climate action.
As the causal links between industrial processes and spatially remote environmental impacts become better understood, we are seeing an intensification of public scrutiny of politicians at the forefront of carbon-based economies; after all, if the bulk of your manifesto is built upon safeguarding an economy of infinite growth on a planet of finite resources, what on Earth are you really fighting for?
Undoubtedly, climate change is an issue generating more and more public attention; at the People’s Climate March in September last year, hundreds of thousands marched through the streets of cities in 150 countries in the single largest mass call-to-action on climate change the world has ever seen. To be sure, media coverage of the event was not without a joke or three about the perceived prevalence of eco-chic champagne socialist celebrities marching in the name of climate justice, yet nobody could deny that a clear desire for change was driving the event.
This year, public engagement promises to be even greater as the pressure mounts on parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to put words into action. In the spirit of the Convention, it’s time for all parties to recognise that the tangible threat of a climate catastrophe can only be avoided with the widest possible cooperation by all states. Such realisation is crucial if we are to reach a political landmark in Paris instead of yet another political failure.
One thing is clear: we need a new policy narrative on climate change, and what better way to start pushing for one than to a march straight through the heart of Westminster? It’s time to tell our politicians that failure to act on climate change is not an option: it’s morally reprehensible.
But as the social and economic costs of mitigating climate change continue to inflate, surely the most expensive we can do is nothing at all?
The Time to Act march starts at 12.30pm on Saturday (March 7) in Lincoln Inns Fields, London.
To read more about it and learn about how you can support the campaign, visit the Facebook event page or go to www.timetoact2015.org