We need action now to prevent climate change from becoming unmanageable
This summer’s weather has been extraordinary, not just in Scotland but around the world. It has been accompanied by the usual slew of online articles about how to get to sleep in the warm weather (has anyone actually managed to fit a pillow in the freezer?) and the importance of staying hydrated.
But as the heat has continued, the advice has moved from not leaving dogs in hot cars to warnings about water levels running low in reservoirs and the two words guaranteed to strike fear into suburbia – “hosepipe ban”.
Reports are coming in daily of the deadly wildfires that are now spreading across Greece, California and elsewhere as the Northern Hemisphere continues to roast. Even in the Highlands, a red alert has been issued for this weekend following massive wildfire blazes seen since spring as a result of the heatwave.
Photographs showing the extent of glacier loss have been confounded with news that earlier this week, temperatures in Norway have been reaching up to 33 degrees Celsius in areas that are within the Arctic Circle. These are the highest temperatures since records began and look set to go from a rare event to just a once-in-a-decade event.
Yet, between the warnings and the advice on how to stay cool, an important thread seems to have been too often missed – climate change. It’s hard to believe, especially in heat that makes even the thought of wearing a jumper unbearable, that just a few months ago we were all struggling in the face of massive snow storms and disruption as a result of the ‘Beast from the East’. It was therefore easy for sceptics to bat away the issue of climate change with the tired misunderstanding that global warming should automatically result in better weather, not worse.
So why has the connection and consequences of climate change been lost? 97% of scientists agree that the climate change we are currently experiencing is as a direct result of human activity and is accelerating. In the scientific world of peer reviewed research, this level of agreement is practically unheard of on any other issue. But a familiar cast of climate change deniers, often non-scientists or those working in completely different subject areas, continue to be given a prominent profile in the name of ‘balance’ by our media and politicians.
Last year the BBC was forced to apologise following an interview with Nigel Lawson on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme which failed to challenge his inaccurate climate change denying views or explain that his ‘Global Warming Policy Foundation’ is really an anti-environmental lobby group. The apology only came after pressure from high profile scientists and broadcasters like Brian Cox and Jim Al-Khalili, among others.
More recently Andrew Neil, presenter of some of the UK’s highest profile political programmes, has been challenged on his long track record of promoting climate denial and debunked nonsense on the subject. Yet unlike broadcasters with progressive or left-leaning views, his propaganda hasn’t proved a problem for his career.
Social media is far from innocent when it comes to allowing dangerous falsehoods to circulate and gain vast audiences. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg may have caused outrage for stating in an interview that his site would not act to remove groups and posts supporting Holocaust denial (while removing photos of women breastfeeding on the basis that they are offensive) but this isn’t the only ‘fake news’ the site has propagated. A video by Marc Morano – a fossil fuel industry lobbyist who makes Donald Trump look like Atticus Finch in the honesty and integrity stakes – which was designed to cast doubt on the reality of and dangers associated with man-made climate change and paid for by fossil fuel-funded think-tanks has been viewed by over 5 million Facebook users and been shared 75,000 times.
Closer to home, we have much work to do if we are to tackle climate change and face up to the realities of the big picture - one in which lives are already being lost, and the natural systems we depend upon are being thrown into chaos.
It demands radical action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, to prevent climate change from becoming unmanageable. But we also need to take a long view of how our whole economy works, from our over-reliance on fossil fuels to the way we keep building energy-hungry homes and communities which will get ever more difficult, expensive and unhealthy to live in. The next Climate Change Bill, being debated over the coming months, must include more than just stronger targets on cutting carbon emissions; it must be a radical step-change in our actions.
It may be a cliché to say that we need to give 110% in order to succeed, but we certainly can’t just look back at past progress and tell ourselves the job’s done.
This article first appeared in The National.