The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its third report a few weeks ago. The warning is as stark as it gets: We have to act now, and act drastically, if we want any hope of keeping global warming increases below the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold.
Everything in our lives needs to change – energy, buildings, food, transport, industry. We need to rethink how we live, or we will be forced to do this in much more difficult circumstances, when we will have far less control. That we still have a semblance of a chance to salvage the earth, to salvage our lives, should surely be cause for immediate, meaningful action. But change is hard and it requires courage and sacrifice. Sometimes it means doing what is unpopular but necessary. Evidently, we don’t have leaders with any courage or sense of what is necessary.
We must not underestimate the impact of this weak and indulgent leadership. Their notion that tackling climate change does not require difficult choices or some measure of urgent sacrifice creeps into other areas of life. A good example of the pervasiveness of this thinking is found in local government. Recently, we prepared to attend a planning hearing about permission being sought for a large-scale pig farm in East Riding. One of our objections was that this intensive pig farm was not a sustainable development. We thought this argument may have some traction in a council that had recently declared a climate emergency. Oh how wrong we were! The horribly superficial approach of these councillors to climate change is terrifying. They were faced with an application for a huge pig farm on a piece of land that was previously used to grow crops. The only climate-related issue that they could grapple with was food miles, so if the pigs were being grown and slaughtered in the UK then in terms of climate change their message was "carry on boys!" . But don’t make them think about the feed these pigs consume (and where it comes from), the waste these pigs make, and lawd do not mention that V word… do not even suggest that meat eating (particularly meat raised in this way) is antithetical to a progressive climate change agenda. Hearing their utter inanity in response to legitimate climate-based objections demonstrates how little they actually care. What was the point in declaring a climate emergency if this is your response? It was truly all lip service.
Given the information coming out of the Council’s climate emergency review panel, you can see why the knowledge and ambition for any meaningful change is so lacking. The review panel’s report provides 12 recommendations, some of which are described as “aspirational”. Delving into the discussion of this report shows how limited and unimaginative local government can be when addressing climate change (if this is described as aspirational ... we are truly f****d). But moreover, it shows how desperately they cling to this fallacy that this supposedly monumental shift they are making somehow WILL NOT, MUST NOT, INCONVENIENCE US. It’s like they deliberately refuse to make any change that will actually make change.
The first part of the report sets out: Often the Climate Change agenda is viewed in a negative way by the press detailing what the public have to give up such as meat or air travel in order to reduce climate change. However, councils could view it in a positive light as an economic opportunity and a way to create jobs, as a way to achieve better health outcomes, improve air quality and provide more targeted services.
There is so much to unpack here...
First of all, it’s pathetic that governments don’t want to treat constituents like adults. Let us please accept that climate change is a bad thing. Yes, it can present opportunities, but framing it as an exciting net positive is misleading at best. They are so clearly trying to frame the hideous impacts of climate change in a way that won’t upset anyone. But in doing so, they hide the reality. If people do not fully understand what we are up against, why would they change anything, why would they feel the need to do anything to help? This Pollyanna insistence that everything will be okay fundamentally undermines any attempts that these councils make to address climate change.
Looking further into the document makes us wonder, are they REALLY trying to address climate change? Or is this all window dressing? No mention is made of things like reducing meat consumption – of course, since it was stated at the start that they would never ask people to suffer such a hardship. Yet the report writers acknowledge that 90% of East Riding is agricultural land. It accepts that reconsidering food production can be a way in which to address climate change – BUT DO NOT GO NEAR OUR MEAT. We realise that lots of their constituents are farmers or connected in some way to farming, and that change will be hardest for them. But why not be brave? Instead of all this drivel that amounts to literally nothing, why not recognise the opportunity that your area presents and look for investment and innovation, and look for ways to help farmers actually diversify into sustainable farming? We aren’t talking about the National Farmers Union, who frankly have no clue when it comes to doing anything progressive (just look at how they have lobbied the government to allow the use of neonics to help sugar beet farmers). No, we mean forming partnerships with people who actually know what they are doing and ARE committed to addressing climate change. Why not put your money where your mouth is?
The answer is clear from the document why they are not doing this: because this was never about doing hard things. It’s not about making necessary change, it’s about letting people feel secure in going about their same lives as the world literally burns around them. For heaven’s sake, one of the 41 possible recommendations to address climate change was to make new parents feel good about using disposable nappies (they could be incinerated “cleanly” for electricity generation). Great! I’m sure in 30 years those kids, dealing with floods, food scarcity and civil unrest, will be delighted to know that mum and dad didn't feel guilty using disposable nappies back when there was a chance at salvation.