We must face up to climate disaster
Dear Sir, — Yet again scientists have published stern warnings that global warming caused by human action will bring disaster unless it is contained.
More impactive has been the spectacle of Australia burning and Scots and Norwegians sweltering in a December heat wave. Turning to Asia, New Delhi has been so polluted that masks have to be worn, while Old Delhi has endured one of its coldest Decembers since 1901.
Here in England we have had floods, following on from record-breaking temperatures earlier in the year.
Phone cameras and the internet transmit graphic images. It is impossible to ignore their message. Over the last two years awareness has exploded. The facts have become too obvious for more than a shrinking minority to ignore, deny or explain away.
Climate change has leapt from the inside pages of the Guardian, the Independent and the Observer to a whole issue of the Daily Mirror. Even “Oor Wullie” north of the border mentions it as he ruminates on his upturned bucket. Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, has expressed deep disquiet about fossil fuels. Even sparsely populated Siberia sees its fires publicised.
Unfortunately, all this has coincided with the rise of President Trump who believes that global warming is a Chinese hoax, and the denial by Fox News that anything is happening.
But will mounting concern add up to the effective containment of climate change or slowing of its consequences? The recent Madrid conference ended in disappointment. The biggest polluters were the most reluctant to impose limits or checks. Some states are, as it were, multiple pollutants.
China appears to be undergoing all the stages of the Industrial Revolution at once. Will this year’s conference in Glasgow fare any better?
It should at least provide a microcosm of the huge basic problem, or rather interconnected set of problems. These are lack of co-operation between governments, lack of co-operation between governments and their peoples and lack of certainty about what countries will consist of in terms of boundaries and territories.
To zoom in on the host nation, will the English delegates receive a warm welcome from the Scots, who are trying to break the ties of four centuries? Will England be able to cooperate with Europe if it has left the EU on bad terms? Such difficult situations are replicated all over the world.
The question arises of what governments can do, either as individual units or as a collective. Perhaps we need new structures of decision-making. Perhaps neither liberal democracy nor dictatorship, however disguised, nor oligarchy is suited to this new emergency.
An unimaginable catastrophe demands a boundlessly imaginative approach. So far it has not occurred to elites, let alone peoples, that such upheaval might be our only hope.
Ironies abound. The Antipodes were always seen as refuges, dumping grounds or places to make a fresh start. In 1957 Nevil Shute wrote On The Beach, postulating a nuclear war that killed the world’s population, Australians last.
More recently, and in real life, the New Zealand government realised that American billionaires were investing in New Zealand properties as boltholes and put a stop to it.
Now volcanic eruptions off their shores and smoke drifting from Australia have made New Zealand vulnerable.
Greenland might finally deserve its name, conferred on it by the Viking chieftain, Eric the Red, who tried to colonise it more than 1,000 years ago. He was trying to attract settlers by telling them that the land was green and fertile. Now it might well become so, just as the North-West Passage is moving from fiction to fact.
Virtually the entire scientific establishment agrees that global warming is speeding up. Attempts to deal with it should be speeded up to match.
The problem is not so much the policies of governments as the difficulty of persuading people to accept a lower standard of living as they perceive it.
Sparta, with its cold baths and bulls’ blood broth, is not a seductive prospect to those used to the fleshpots of the decadent modern West.
There is always hope. Denmark has just announced that over half its energy is green and Keele University is developing HiDeploy, a method of using hydrogen to cut carbon emissions via gas fuel.
Decades have been lost. Now the danger is increasing. But there is still time. In 20 years it might be too late. Civilisation might disintegrate. Tribes might have to begin the long climb back, having, one hopes, a savage lesson. We have to move quickly. Millions, perhaps billions, might have to die due to the damage already done. Zooming in on the UK (the current name for the British Isles), the land area will be smaller and the population will shift to the hilly North and West. We might have to accept Dutch refugees if the Netherlands disappears. They are our relatives. Our country, or countries, will be very different. We should consider the possibilities. — Yours faithfully,