The global response to climate change is worse than most people think—and betterby Sam Knight / February 20, 2013 / Leave a comment
World leaders want to limit the global temperature increase to two degrees above pre-industrial levels
For those who live and work on the battered field of climate change, these are strange days. On the one hand, the disaster in front of us has never appeared more visible or close at hand. On the other, especially in the rich societies of the west, we seem to have lost the will to push for a solution, or even to talk much about it. Late last year, the annual gathering of thousands of negotiators of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, this time in Doha, Qatar, passed with barely a murmur. The Kyoto Protocol, as the world’s only climate change treaty is formally called, which now covers just a handful of countries, was extended for another eight years, to neither acclaim nor disdain.
In the US, it seems to have taken Hurricane Sandy—a possible omen of the world to come—to get President Barack Obama’s attention. In Britain, we have watched the “greenest government ever” creep towards airport expansion, gas drilling in Lancashire and become more sceptical on wind farms. Across Europe, recessions and rising unemployment have not only pushed climate change down the political agenda, they have contributed to a small decline in popular belief that the problem exists at all. Many climate change activists—so visible in the run-up to the 40,000-strong UN climate change summit in Copenhagen in 2009—have switched their attention to the iniquities of global capitalism. The UK’s main umbrella lobby group, the National Climate Camp, disbanded in 2011, fragmenting into several separate, single-issue campaigns: against a third runway at Heathrow, against cuts, against fracking. “It has definitely been a trip into the wilderness,” one of its former members told me.
The sense of drift is understandable. It is born of economic distress; a sense of powerlessness against an almost inconceivable threat; the feebleness of our leaders; the effective troublemaking of climate change deniers. But it does us no good. Not only because of the real urgency of the threat of climate change: the time frame for critical action is now within one or two electoral cycles at most. But also because the fug, the silence, the denial serves to conceal the fact that there is, actually, a wealth of positive human activity taking place at the moment…