What definition of an emergency excludes climate change but includes the murder of Lee Rigby?

I remember back in 2009, alongside millions of others around the world, I took to the streets to demand that our leaders stop playing ‘Russian Roulette’ with our future and secure a legally binding climate agreement.

While some at the time expressed frustration through violence at the failure of Copenhagen, all I remember is the crushing feeling of defeat as our leaders floundered.

In the words of Mark Lynas, Copenhagen was a “disaster”. It is hard to disagree with him on his use of adjective.

Since then, despite knowing all too well the severity of the risk that we as a species face, I have lost my voice and my heart when it comes to climate change.

This apathy is not unique or very surprising, but nor is it particularly helpful.

It is not unique because I know through speaking to friends and other ‘environmentalists’ that others have experienced a ‘post Copenhagen slump’.

It is not surprising because we are getting to a stage where we have to choose the worst of some very bad options. In the classic moral question where you ask if someone would pull a switch to divert a train from killing a group of people if you knew your actions would kill one person, no one expects that person to pull the switch with enthusiasm.

Equally though, this apathy is not particularly helpful because it runs the danger of throwing us even further away from tackling climate change and avoiding the most serious of consequences – large scale human death.

This is why I owe a huge amount to my wonderfully articulate and courageous friend, Dom Aversano, who this week metaphorically shook me out of this apathy.

Dom is one of those guys with an admirably solid moral core and who oozes determination and passion – in a very self-effacing English sort of way!

This week Dom took to the pages of the Huffington Post to write about how we have now exceeded 400 ppm of carbon in our atmosphere. If like most people, you’re thinking… ‘what the hell does that mean?’ Dom provides a nice summary:

“On 9 May this year the number of parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere exceeded 400ppm for the first time in at least 800,000 years. Anything above 450ppm dangerously risks pushing us passed an irreversible tipping point. This is would mean the climate is then out of our control… The end result is a planet 6°C warmer and no longer capable of supporting our current civilization.”

In short, we have just slid past another milestone that edges towards not just being slightly fucked, but proper fucked.

Dom quite rightly asks, why then are our leaders not calling this a national state of emergency?

Cameron did call a Cobra meeting (where politicians get together to show that they are doing, or planning on doing, something about a national emergency) for the tragic death of Lee Rigby a few weeks ago. He has failed however, to hold an equivalent meeting whenever he is told of how climate change will cause of the death of millions or even possibly billions of humans.

Figures vary dramatically on the current death toll from climate change. The World Health Organisation estimates 140,000 deaths as a result of climate change. Kofi Annan’s organization, the Global Humanitarian Forum, puts the figure closer 300,000 every year.

There are various estimates out there extrapolating this into the future. The Daily Mail recently ran with the figure of 100 million deaths by 2030 – although I am not sure how we can know anything more accurate than ‘a lot’.

What definition of an emergency is Cameron using that excludes climate change but includes the murder of Lee Rigby?

I hope that most readers would agree that these sorts of figures do constitute a national ‘emergency’.

It is well established that they only way to reduce the likelihood of us suffering the worst consequences of climate change (like the upper estimates on the number of deaths) is to reduce our carbon emissions.

Dom, in his Huffington Post article, signposts us to how the government is fairing in this respect. In 2012 the UK’s carbon emission went up 3.9%.

To put this into context, around 11% of the world’s GHG emissions come from within the EU and every other nation state in 2012 saw a reduction in their GHG emissions apart from…you guessed it, the UK!

Despite such as urgency for action – made only more so by the fact that a ton of GHG emissions saved today is worth more than a ton saved in a year – our elected representatives have in the last week voted against imposing strict emission targets.

My own elected representative,  Neil Carmichael MP, has voted against his Conservative Party colleague’s , amendment that would have removed carbon from the energy production cycle by 2030.

Word’s fail me in the face of such short-termism. And so I will finish with the words that Dom finished his article with:

 “It might be said that talk of asteroids and destruction to civilisation is alarmist, polemical, and childish, but the great climate scientist James Hansen said in response to the unprecedented Arctic ice melt last summer that “We are in a planetary emergency”. In the face of such a stark warning it is childish and irresponsible not to respond, and polemical and alarmist to ignore the scientific community’s advice. We owe it to the children of today, and the future, who are relying on us to act now.”

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2 Comments

Filed under Climate Change

2 responses to “What definition of an emergency excludes climate change but includes the murder of Lee Rigby?

  1. Tuck

    Steve, As a father of 3 I do sometimes despair for the future of my children but all we can do is keep passing the message on, doing our ‘little bit’ both in our day to day life, our work place and don’t lose too much faith. It doesn’t help that I’m a national of one of the filthiest countries in the world (Australia) where sticking your head in the sand is a national pastime. Keep the faith and keep passing on the world, there is an answer…..

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  2. One answer offered so far:

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