Right Now They Might Just Listen

Politics & Public Debate

If we pander to notions that we shouldn’t sound the climate emergency alarm during inconvenient times or in perceivably inappropriate spaces – whether it be now, during the global Covid-19 epidemic, or in any other public time and space – then we neglect to act with the urgency that the issue of climate change so desperately demands.

Certainly, there are campaign organisations that need to think strategically about the spatiotemporal locations of their campaign actions in order for them to be effective. Moreover, it’s paramount that we sound the metaphorical alarm in the appropriate manner, catering the message in a way that is sensitive and accessible to those who hear it. However, on the whole, the issue of climate change requires campaigners to uncompromisingly speak out about it, whatever the weather. And, if there are comparisons to be drawn between climate change and the present global Covid-19 crisis – and assuming that some of the anxieties relating to the present crisis will have made people more amenable to emotionally engaging with and thus more able to meaningfully reflect upon climate change, a crisis preeminent among all others – then in most cases those comparisons should be drawn and relayed.  

Undoubtedly, it’s important for us to recognise that presently many people will be experiencing hopelessness, loneliness or even loss. Hence, compassion and sensitivity to others and their experiences is critical when we engage in climate-related conversations, as is our tone. However, above all else, we must remain resolutely conscientious of our cause, for the impact of climate change is far greater than any present or historic crisis.

With that said, crises present fine opportunities to lobby, to challenge the status quo, to imprint a permanent impression upon those with whom we converse, for in such times one or two people might actually listen to what we have to say. So, if you have added time on your hands – as many people currently do – I would encourage you to talk about climate change. Moreover, write about it. Write to your local councillors (if you are in the UK, you can use this link to direct you to the correct website where you should be able to find contact details for your councillors), write to your MPs, write to your unions, to your friends and relatives. Write to those who have had their fingers in their ears for too long. It’s important that you do this because right now they might just listen.

As a teacher, I’ve written to the National Education Union, together with a handful of my local MPs and councillors. Over the coming days and weeks, I intend to write more.

I implore you to do the same.

“Good afternoon _______,

I hope you are keeping well.

I wanted to send you a short email to further emphasise the urgency of climate change, with the hope that the current crisis will give you and your colleagues cause to reflect and adjust your position.

In our previous correspondence, it was made clear to me that the NEU could not react to climate change without suitable cause. With that said, I could not help but notice the amount of effort the NEU has put into pressuring the government to act on Covid-19 in recent weeks. Undoubtedly the decision to do this was based upon the science, which estimates that if suitable precautionary measures are not taken, thousands of lives could be lost in the UK alone. I would therefore like to reassert that, for the same reason, the NEU has an obligation to pressure the government with as much fervour on the subject of climate change.

In fact, if you compare these two crises, the scientific consensus relating to the climate catastrophe is far graver. The projection for Covid -19 is that 1%-4% of those who contract the virus could die. In response to this, the union has lobbied the government ruthlessly and they have listened, shutting down schools and social infrastructures in response in order to save lives. This has come at a great cost to the economy but fortunately this has been accepted as a price worth paying.

In comparison, the scientific consensus for climate change is that human extinction within just a couple of generations is possible, billions (>12% of the global population) will certainly die, yet the union does nigh-on nothing. Furthermore, the government bends the truth about its response to climate change (https://acstark.net/…/11/19/when-governments-lie-citizens-…/). Contrary to the tone taken with respect to Covid-19, many within and many more external to the government have argued that the actions required to mitigate climate change would impact too greatly upon the economy.

So, it’s quite clear that either something else is at play here which is incentivising the union and the government to act on Covid-19 and/or disincentivising both to act on climate change, or the union and the government do not properly understand the gravity and urgency of the climate and ecological emergency.

My request to you is this: please, pass this email onto your colleagues and superiors so that they can consider their position more carefully. Maybe at this moment in time, they might be more amenable to considering a more appropriate course of action.

Kind regards,

A.C. Stark”

When Governments Lie Citizens Fly

Nature & the Environment, Politics & Public Debate

When it comes to climate change the Government lies to us, but we also lie to ourselves.

Again and again we are told by the honourable conservative political elite that the UK is a world leader in the fight against climate change. Many of us clearly realise that this neat slogan is often furtively utilised to dodge the question as to whether the UK Government is doing enough to avert a global climate catastrophe. Nonetheless, credit should be given where credit is due. In some respects it is certainly true, “the UK is leading action to tackle climate change”.

After all, the UK was the first nation to underwrite a legally-binding target to reduce CO2 emissions and has since improved upon that target, claiming that it intends to hit net-zero emissions by 2050 – a short 42 years after the initial target was passed by the UK Parliament. Furthermore, in an impressive display of executive vigour, the UK Government has greatly reduced its subsidising of coal mining for electricity generation, which proved especially difficult to achieve since the coal economy collapsed decades ago (1, 2, 3). Additionally, DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) appear to be deeply invested in the noble concept of carbon offsetting to make the expansion of Europe’s busiest airport ethical.

However world-leading this record may (or may not) be, it is not nearly a sufficient response to humanity’s existential crisis. Such a response requires nothing less than for us to establish a war footing against climate change; to divert all resources towards one goal: averting the extinction of humankind. Yet, the UK Government rejects this motion as rash and economically unviable. In other words, the Government gives precedence to the capitalist project of economic growth over any sufficient attempts to avert anthropogenic human extinction. What’s more, when the Government’s record on climate change is scrutinised it’s plain to see how pitiful it really is, and their slogan is exposed for what it is: pretentious trickery.

Unfortunately, the UK Government’s apparent leadership on climate change is eclipsed by its unwavering inclination to surreptitiously pass the buck. Whilst its emissions are falling nationally, the UK Government subsidises the fossil fuel industry more than any other EU nation and, what’s maybe worse, it refuses to subsidise renewables until 2025. On top of that, it provides billions of pounds in financial support to overseas fossil fuel industries. Again, there is merit in the UK’s achievements concerning its divestment from coal and its reduction in emissions. Yet, its mission to reach net-zero emissions nationally by 2050 is fundamentally negated if it continues to inconspicuously fund international fossil fuel industries and altogether fails to subsidise renewables. Indeed, it becomes clear that the UK Government is not being entirely truthful to its citizens. According to a study published by the Overseas Development Institute in 2018, the UK ranked 1st amongst all G7 nations for its fossil fuel subsidy commitments but last for its transparency. So, if the UK Government continues to insist that it is a world leader, it is so only in prevarication and dirty populist politics. Alternatively, perhaps the Government is simply incapable of recognising its own contradiction.

This isn’t altogether an impossible idea. A similar praxis of compartmentalisation is reflected in the growing popular culture around sustainability. Even though the growth of this culture signals a long-awaited, welcome increase in public awareness concerning the climate and ecological emergency, it also actively encourages us to greenwash our lives. Take carbon offsetting as a case in point. If, like Elton John, you believe that throwing money into carbon offsetting schemes will miraculously make your air miles eco-friendly, you are woefully mistaken. Sure, carbon offsetting constitutes doing something. In theory it’s a respectable way of funding carbon capture and storage projects or other similarly green initiatives. However, offsetting our carbon-heavy lifestyles definitely does not constitute doing enough – it is far from a sufficient response to the emergency at hand. Fundamentally, it prevents us from doing what is necessary: it prevents us from having to face up to the harsh reality of the climate emergency; it dissuades us from rebelling against ourselves; from rebelling against our own destructive habits and desires; and coerces us into continuing with business as usual. Convinced we are saintly, we thus allow ourselves to conscientiously wreck the planet rather than impetuously so.

Sure, it’s better than denying the existence of climate change. It is also better than ignoring it. Yet, the emissions we offset – say by flying, eating meat or travelling in SUVs – still involve pumping copious amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. When we invest in carbon offsetting, we are simply passing the buck; quickly and conveniently we relieve ourselves of our environmental responsibilities and in the process we inhibit any meaningful cultural change. In an era when what we do today will undoubtedly determine whether or not civilised societies will exist in a hundred years, merely offsetting these emissions is not enough. The concentration of CO2 currently in the atmosphere is greater than it’s been for millions of years and it takes centuries for atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to reduce naturally. So, to do anything other than to actively attempt to reduce its concentration as much as possible is insane. To do anything other than to establish a war footing against climate change is insane. Compartmentalisation is practiced by the insane.

Further still, a recent study by the European Commission found that 85% of carbon offsets are unlikely to produce any real reduction in carbon emissions. So, we are kidding ourselves if we think that carbon offsetting lets us off the hook. It is rarely even helpful, let alone sufficient.

Given the circumstances, a sufficient response to climate change entails doing the best we can possibly do to reduce our emissions, not merely offsetting them or shipping them off to distant lands and pretending we have nothing to do with them. Ultimately, the UK Government needs to go fully fossil fuel free. That’s what a leader would do. On top of that, we the citizens ought to go flight free. Anything else would constitute insanity.

Join me and pledge to go flight free in 2020.

A.C. Stark