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Archive for November, 2007

While I was at the conference last week, one or two of us were trying to come up with ideas for what the group could actually do to try and help in raising awareness of climate change, and I suggested we should start a petition to get Gordon Brown to address the nation solely on the issue of climate change. And hey presto! – on Monday he did just that, and it didn’t take a single signature.

It wasn’t quite the all-channel dominating, prime-time, 30 minute long, Hollywood-style epic that I had in mind, but it was a start.

So what did he say? Well, he recognised that the Climate Change Bill might have to “be tightened up to 80 per cent”, and said that “By 2016, all new houses will have to be zero carbon”. He also said he was “convinced that we can eliminate single-use disposable bags altogether in favour of long-lasting and more sustainable alternatives”, and was going to have a meeting with the supermarkets and co. about how this could be done – but made no promises it would be (1). There were lots of mentions of technologies that will help, and how difficult it will be to overcome the problem etc. – but somehow, it didn’t leave me very convinced.

Zero carbon houses in 2016?! – What are you going to be pissing about with in the meantime Gordon? – That’s 8 years away!

Anyway, So far so good. If he sticks to everything he said in the speech (and it’s up to us to make sure that he does), then we will be a little closer to preventing more than 2 degrees of climate change, which is something we REALLY need to prevent.

The problem, as many people have highlighted previously, was that government departments, notably Transport, didn’t appear to have heard the speech, and certainly weren’t going to let it get in the way of nice big plans for a third runway at Heathrow.

According to the Secretary of State for Transport, Ruth Kelly – “If Heathrow is allowed to become uncompetitive, the flights and routes it operates will simply move elsewhere. All it will do is shift capacity over the Channel. It will make us feel pure, but with no benefit to the rest of the planet.” (2).

What?!?! Did she really just say that? As a friend of mine said today, that’s like saying “Well of course I’m going to keep selling drugs to kids, because if I didn’t then someone else would instead.”

I couldn’t believe that these two statements came from the same Government. That’s right folks – we’re really concerned about global warming – so concerned that we’re going to build lots of new runways so that other people don’t have to, therefore reducing their emissions. Errr……hold on a second…….

On the face of it, Mr. Brown seems to understand the extent of the problem, saying –
“The issue is not, as some would have it: can we afford to do more. The now undeniable reality is that we cannot afford to accept any less” – apart from, apparently, where planes are discussed. Oh, or building more coal-fired power stations (3). Hmmmm.

Forgive me for not being entirely convinced Gordon, but how about doing something. Like now.

Not everyone is going to enjoy the necessary changes over the next ten years or so – so why is the Prime Minister so scared of doing things? Does he really think that we are going to be able to cut our emissions to the required amount and also keep the motoring industry, supermarkets and big business completely happy?

Do you really want to get rid of plastic bags Gordon? Then do it! It won’t save the planet, but it would be a start. And have a good long think about that third runway while you’re at it. You’ve talked the talk, so how about a bit of walking to follow.

References

1. Gordon Brown speech on Climate Change at the WWF – 19th November 2007. This can be found in full here.
2. Kelly launches fight for Heathrow expansion, The Guardian Online edition, 22nd Nov. 2007.
3. The New Coal Age – George Monbiot, Monbiot.com, October 9th, 2007.

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In the last few days I have been at a conference called ‘Be The Change’ in London. Speakers included the activist George Monbiot, the Deputy Mayor of London, Richard Reed from Innocent smoothies, and Prof. CS Kiang (a specialist in air quality and climate change in China) as well as climate scientists and representatives of “Ethical Business”.

It’s been going for several years, and was not started exclusively to discuss climate change, but it dominated the agenda this year.

And what did it achieve? What was the result of listening to all these people? Well not a lot. The main outcome of this meeting will be people going home, happy that they heard what they wanted to hear. Happy that speakers said we need action as soon as possible, we need to reduce our power usage, we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and we need to make people aware of the extent of the problem.

But nobody decided to do anything. How about agreeing as a group to do something? How about deciding what we want to happen instead of telling each other things we already know?

The only way that this conference will have helped, will be if people are so frustrated by the impotence of the 3-day meeting, that they go home thinking ‘I can do better than that! – I’m going to DO something’. Maybe that was the idea all along.

Conferences and meetings such as this one are laboured by two main problems.

Firstly, everyone that comes to these conferences knows what the problem is. They know how desperate the situation is, so what’s the point of telling them again? Too often these meetings descend into self-congratulatory back-slapping, and an ‘us against them’ atmosphere, with people saying and thinking “Why aren’t people listening?! – Those bastards are ruining our planet!”

The reason that people aren’t listening is that we aren’t telling them. We’re too busy telling each other how terrible it is – usually talking to people who already know about the issue. “We’re so wonderful – we know that the world is buggered!”

Secondly, much of the conversation and many of the people interested in climate change have come out of the main Green and Environmentalist groups. And these groups include a few loonies. At any meeting like this it is only a matter of time before a nutter asks a question like
“Don’t you think we need to start by getting rid of capitalism?”….or……..

“We need to get people to admit that having more material possessions is not going to make them happier”……or even…..

“I believe the world is good, and if we could just get rid of all the pain and suffering then……” Oh dear oh dear.

The movement against climate change needs to be able to remove itself from the well-meaning, lovingly pathetic people that can’t wait to use climate change to try and get the world to go back to free love and peace and smoking lots of weed. There is a place for this approach in addressing a very small section of society, but unless we can separate ourselves from these people it is going to make it more difficult to explain to society at large the problem we face, without even a hint of an I-told-you-so attitude.

If you would like to follow this up a bit, Mark Lynas has recently written an article partially on this problem of too much discussion and analysis and not enough action. It can be found if you click here.

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