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OPINION

Inaction over climate crisis impacts us all – and begins with politicians being reluctant to take unpopular decisions

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Short-term chase for votes means little prospect of global consensus on how to meet threat

Last week’s damning report from the UK government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC), which said that the country had “lost the leadership” in tackling the climate crisis, brought to mind the 2021 Oscar-nominated movie Don’t Look Up which, using the darkest of humour, depicts how ill-equipped as a race humans are to dealing with existential threats as governments instead focus on short-term measures in a bid to win votes and avoid the unpopular measures that need to be taken to ensure our future.

In the movie, a meteor hurtles towards Earth, threatening the extinction of all life on the planet, with appeals from scientists for governments to take urgent action largely ignored both by politicians and the media, a President of the US and tech billionaire respectively looking to make political and financial capital from the looming disaster, and some denying the asteroid exists in the first place.

While it could apply to any ongoing crisis demanding a decisive response that puts the welfare of all above party politics, the movie is first and foremost a cutting satirical depiction of how the world is responding to the climate crisis, even as we rush headlong towards the point at which scientific consensus holds that climate change will be irreversible.

CCC chair Lord Debden said on publication of last week’s report that recent decisions by the UK government such as giving the go-ahead to a new coal mine as well as new oil and gas fields in the North Sea were “utterly unacceptable” and that there was decreasing confidence among the committee that the 2030 short-term deadline for the UK cutting its carbon emissions would be met.

“We’ve slipped behind, and other people have moved ahead,” he insisted. “This is not a report that suggests satisfactory progress.”

Don’t Look Up deviates from one of the more entrenched tropes in science fiction cinema, where a movie begins with an event such as an encounter with aliens or potential natural catastrophe that threatens our existence, and which as a result pulls the human race together, with nations co-operating to head off the perceived threat.

Contact, Deep Impact, Independence Day and Arrival are just four films over recent decades that fit this mould to a greater or lesser extent, but the real-world evidence is that even as the scale of the threat climate change poses becomes increasingly clear, we are no closer to finding a way of working together to try and deal with the threat we face.

Don’t Look Up highlights how political short-termism that cannot see beyond approval ratings, the pursuit of populist policies and a media that trivialises complex issues and shies away from asking tough questions, as well as the influence of vested financial interests, come together in a disastrous cocktail.

And while the movie may be set in the US, those themes are transferable to the UK – witness Tory peer Zak Goldsmith’s resignation last week from his position as Minister of State for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment, when he accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of being “simply uninterested” in the environment.

“This government’s apathy in the face of the greatest challenge we face makes continuing in my role untenable,” wrote Goldsmith in a tweet accompanying his resignation letter. In which he listed steps the UK had taken that he said put it at the vanguard of international efforts to combat climate change, and how under its current leadership, the country had now lost that position.

“I will never understand how, with all the knowledge we now have about our fundamental reliance on the natural world and the speed with which we are destroying it, anyone can be unmoved,” wrote Goldsmith, suggesting Sunak was “personally unmoved” by the “existential challenge” and that there was widespread “paralysis” across Whitehall as the government focused on more populist policies.

The most high profile of those in the UK at the moment are the repeated pledges made by the Prime Minister and Home Secretary Suella Braverman to stop refugees and asylum seekers from trying to enter the UK by boat – while not providing them with a safe alternative route to come here for their applications to be assessed.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media will devote acres of coverage to how Just Stop Oil activists are slowing down motor traffic, or briefly disrupting sporting events, while making scant reference to the cause they are actually protesting over.

Globally, of course, tackling the climate crisis has taken something of a back seat these past three years as governments have focused on the coronavirus pandemic, or the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the UK having the added distraction of the country’s departure from the European Union, which has sucked up energy and resources across government.

The fact is that any trying and reduce the impact of climate change often requires effort or sacrifice at the individual level, whether that be reducing car use or doing away with one altogether, using a train rather than plane to go on holiday, recycling as much as possible and practising sustainability wherever possible.

Many councils of course have sought to make it easier for people to do that, for example through policies promoting active travel such as building cycle lanes, or excluding motor vehicles from town centres – which is all the excuse that some politicians or media outlets need in order to oppose them, often by obfuscating or misreporting the facts as a threat to individual freedom.

The term that we’ve come to use to describe what is, in fact, climate change, doesn’t help either – it’s the reason John down the pub this evening might ask, on hearing what I’ve been writing about today, how ‘global warming’ exists given it’s fairly cool for early July in London today, while entirely ignoring the fact that the UK has just experienced its hottest June on record.

The unseasonably cool weather and rainy periods in London right now are, of course, explained by the start this week of the Wimbledon tennis championships – which this year coincides with the opening, today, of a High Court action brought by several Conservative-controlled Outer London boroughs against Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s planned extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone.

Opposition, whether local or national, to initiatives aimed at helping the environment isn’t just seen in the UK, of course. It’s something we see across what are described as ‘developed’ countries, where the political narrative is typically shaped by election cycles.

As a result, necessarily painful measures that must be taken to avoid damaging our planet any more than we have already done are shelved as terms near their end.

Other countries, meanwhile, are pursuing their own agendas, which will often be in direct conflict with trying to reduce carbon emissions, whether that be the increasing industrialisation of a number of countries in the Far East and southern Asia – notably, China – or the Gulf States looking to protect the wealth they have built on the exploitation of fossil fuels.

“We’ve run out of time because change takes time,” University of New South Wales climatologist Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick told Reuters, which reported this week how scientists are becoming increasingly concerned that previously agreed goals to try and contain the impact of climate change were unlikely to be met.

Forest fires, drought, flooding and record temperatures around the world underline the need for urgent action as global leaders prepare to sit down later this year at the COP 28 conference in Dubai to try and reach consensus on how to respond to the threat that the changing climate is having on our planet.

Experience, and expectations, suggest that in terms of deeds rather than words, it will be impossible to reach one, while all the time that metaphorical meteor gets closer and closer to striking us – although unlike Don’t Look Up, when it does, the audience will have stopped laughing long before that happens.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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63 comments

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hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
2 likes

It seems that Tuesday broke the record set on Monday for the global average temperature.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jul/05/tuesday-was-worlds-hottest-day-on-record-breaking-mondays-record

So, any advance on 17.18C?

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hawkinspeter replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
2 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

It seems that Tuesday broke the record set on Monday for the global average temperature.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jul/05/tuesday-was-worlds-hottest-day-on-record-breaking-mondays-record

So, any advance on 17.18C?

Looks like we've got 17.23C https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-66120297

"Out of control" says the UN https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jul/07/un-climate-change-hottest-week-world

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
1 like

Why can't you gloomy miserablists just enjoy the sunshine!

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hawkinspeter replied to chrisonabike | 7 months ago
1 like
chrisonatrike wrote:

Why can't you gloomy miserablists just enjoy the sunshine!

I was reading earlier about prisoners dying in Texas allegedly from the extreme heat and lack of air-conditioning:

https://www.texastribune.org/2023/06/28/texas-prisons-heat-deaths/

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Rich_cb replied to levestane | 7 months ago
4 likes

I was not aware they had 120,000 year old data with that level of granularity.

Would be intriguing to see how they've calculated it.

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chrisonabike replied to Rich_cb | 7 months ago
7 likes

They recently found one of those neolithic calendar bones.  Had a note saying "ice gone this summer, remember to stock up on more mammoth in the north next winter".

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alchemilla | 7 months ago
7 likes

Very good article.
Insufficient action by all countries will eventually make this planet uninhabitable for much of humanity.
I'm sorry for that. I ride my bike instead of driving, but what more can I personally do?

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levestane replied to alchemilla | 7 months ago
7 likes
alchemilla wrote:

I ride my bike instead of driving, but what more can I personally do?

More walking and cycling would is great, reducing resourse consumption and waste as well as improving health. Other suggestions are:

  • Go vegan, or at least reduce animal product consumption to a minimum.
  • Don't fly, at least not for leisure purposes and restrict to one short-haul flight ever two years.
  • Drive a car below the VED payment threashold (100 g/km at present).
  • Buy energy from companies with plausible renewable credentials (e.g., Ecotricity).
  • Buy what you need not what you want.
  • Buy quality and make it last.
  • Recycle, reuse, repair.
  • ...

 

Avatar
Bungle_52 replied to levestane | 7 months ago
7 likes

I read somewhere that the most damaging thing you can do to the planet is have kids.

Please correct me if that's wrong.

I suppose the only other thing you can do that might make a difference is to lobby for a voting system based on proportional representation and then vote green.

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HoarseMann replied to Bungle_52 | 7 months ago
2 likes
Bungle_52 wrote:

I read somewhere that the most damaging thing you can do to the planet is have kids.

Please correct me if that's wrong.

I'd say that's only because of the current situation where an individual's actions have a negligible effect on sustainability.

The solution is not to stop having kids, but for governments to take the wider action to make sustainable living a possibility for everyone.

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chrisonabike replied to Bungle_52 | 7 months ago
3 likes

Used inner tubes - perhaps another use *can* be found for them?

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wycombewheeler replied to chrisonabike | 7 months ago
3 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:

Used inner tubes - perhaps another use *can* be found for them?

only mountain bike tubes, road bike tubes are too thin

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Clem Fandango replied to wycombewheeler | 7 months ago
2 likes

*upcycles fatbike tube* smiley

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hawkinspeter replied to Clem Fandango | 7 months ago
2 likes
Clem Fandango wrote:

*upcycles fatbike tube* smiley

*cleans tubeless sealant from pubic hair*

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
3 likes

"Is that tubeless sealant or are you just pleased to see me?"

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Clem Fandango replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
1 like

Brazilian innit

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cyclisto replied to Bungle_52 | 7 months ago
0 likes
Bungle_52 wrote:

I read somewhere that the most damaging thing you can do to the planet is have kids.

Please correct me if that's wrong.

I didn't know that Thanos cycled. I would like to see his bike specifications regarding maximum allowed weight.

Leaving Marvel multiverse, the biggest CO2 sources that we don't pay enough attention is heating and food production, so it would be good to start from there.

The other thing is to stop idolizing consumption, not wealth itself. Doing that may convince other people it is useless to buy stuff and services to impress other people.

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chrisonabike replied to cyclisto | 7 months ago
0 likes
cyclisto wrote:

The other thing is to stop idolizing consumption, not wealth itself. Doing that may convince other people it is useless to buy stuff and services to impress other people.

*skims through anthropological resources* That sounds quite a challenge there...

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marmotte27 replied to Bungle_52 | 7 months ago
0 likes

"I read somewhere that the most damaging thing you can do to the planet is have kids."

Bollocks.

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Adam Sutton replied to Bungle_52 | 7 months ago
3 likes
Bungle_52 wrote:

I read somewhere that the most damaging thing you can do to the planet is have kids.

Please correct me if that's wrong.

I suppose the only other thing you can do that might make a difference is to lobby for a voting system based on proportional representation and then vote green.

Population is the elephant in the room. How long is human history? And when you look at population, in my lifetime global population has nearly doubled, and I am in my mid forties.

A bit flippant, but honestly the planet will likely recover after we all kill each other fighting over access to clean water.

 

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marmotte27 replied to Adam Sutton | 7 months ago
2 likes

The planet can easily sustain even 11 billion humans if they live within it's boundaries.
Population is not the "elephant in the room", lifestyle is. Unless you're a rightwinger of course.

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Adam Sutton replied to marmotte27 | 7 months ago
1 like

1979 population was 4.3bn.

2023 population has passed 8bn.

2050 expected year we pass 10bn.

It isn't just lifestyle, and no, I am not a "rightwinger"

 

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Tom_77 replied to Bungle_52 | 7 months ago
2 likes
Bungle_52 wrote:

I read somewhere that the most damaging thing you can do to the planet is have kids.

Please correct me if that's wrong.

As I understand it, that's based on the assumption that children will emit carbon at the same annual rate over their lifetime as their parents currently do. It's highly likely that your children will emit much less than carbon you.

If we do in fact hit "net zero" by 2050 then a child born today will only be emitting carbon for 27 years. Their children would be carbon neutral (or close to).

I think it's very difficult to say what impact having children will have on the planet, it involves too many predictions about the future.

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Rich_cb replied to Tom_77 | 7 months ago
1 like

The world population might well peak in the 2060s so carbon emissions will likely fall rapidly over that child's lifetime with or without net zero.

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Cugel replied to levestane | 7 months ago
7 likes
levestane wrote:
alchemilla wrote:

I ride my bike instead of driving, but what more can I personally do?

More walking and cycling would is great, reducing resourse consumption and waste as well as improving health. Other suggestions are:

  • Go vegan, or at least reduce animal product consumption to a minimum.
  • Don't fly, at least not for leisure purposes and restrict to one short-haul flight ever two years.
  • Drive a car below the VED payment threashold (100 g/km at present).
  • Buy energy from companies with plausible renewable credentials (e.g., Ecotricity).
  • Buy what you need not what you want.
  • Buy quality and make it last.
  • Recycle, reuse, repair.
  • ...

 

A good question ("what can we personally do" ....) and a good answer. But we can, individually, go further.

Another related question, necessary to finding the most effective things we can personally do, is: what of our behaviours causes the most environmental damage (damage of many kinds, not just global warming)? A fundamental answer is: stop consuming so much. Another is: stop consuming the most damaging stuffs.

"Buy what you need and not what you want" is a good rule .... assuming that we can be honest with ourselves when differentiating real needs from mere wants. In the list above, why are any flights at all "needed"; and why buy energy rather than producing it ourselves, for example?

Personally I've bought 12K of solar panels and battery storage, a ground source heat pump of vertical bore type, a highly insulated house with passive heating abilities and so forth. Our house now generates more electricity per year into the grid than we consume out of it (by around 1000 KwHr annually). But we also receive more in payment for the electriity we export than we pay for the electricity we consume from the grid. (Grid use is still needed through winter).

Such things require capital spends (so maybe borrowing) and also consume stuff used to make solar panels and batteries. But spending it on solar panels rather than on foreign holidays, lots of meat, expensive "convenient" fast fud, fags and too many bicycles seems a better option long term, both economically - you do actually get your capital spend back, in the form of low or zero energy bills after about one decade - and it's a lot  "greener" even if still consuming lithium etc..

I mention this as one example of what, for many, would be a drastic and initially expensive change in how a First World denizen can make changes individually that would see improved effects in terms of environmental damage whilst also being economically better, longer term. 

But the most effective thing we can do is, paradoxically, to stop doing all sorts of things we do now, such as pointless travel, car use, meat eating, buying plastic rubbish and so forth. Many claim this is "hard". But it isn't really. Just uncomfortable for those who love their habits.

Many can't easily afford change. This is where a far more enlightened government should be offering policies and subsidies to support such changes.  No chance of that, though, for the reasons mentioned in the article.

 

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to Cugel | 7 months ago
1 like
Cugel wrote:

...
But spending it on ... rather than ... too many bicycles seems a better option long term, ...

Wait - *too many bicycles*? BAD?!

I think it might be simple - humans escaped from one Malthusian limit via cooperation and technology. But we may now simply increase in numbers and particularly consumption until we get to another point of negative feedback.

There is of course an idea that in some decades we may reach a point of population growth reversal. I'm not very familiar with that one. For longer-term ideas it does get more likely that "something else will happen".

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brooksby replied to Cugel | 7 months ago
0 likes
Cugel wrote:

Personally I've bought 12K of solar panels and battery storage, a ground source heat pump of vertical bore type, a highly insulated house with passive heating abilities and so forth. Our house now generates more electricity per year into the grid than we consume out of it (by around 1000 KwHr annually). But we also receive more in payment for the electriity we export than we pay for the electricity we consume from the grid. (Grid use is still needed through winter).

I appreciate that you probably bought that on a loan rather than out of the petty cash, but can I ask for a ballpark figure on how much that cost?

Avatar
Cugel replied to brooksby | 7 months ago
4 likes
brooksby wrote:
Cugel wrote:

Personally I've bought 12K of solar panels and battery storage, a ground source heat pump of vertical bore type, a highly insulated house with passive heating abilities and so forth. Our house now generates more electricity per year into the grid than we consume out of it (by around 1000 KwHr annually). But we also receive more in payment for the electriity we export than we pay for the electricity we consume from the grid. (Grid use is still needed through winter).

I appreciate that you probably bought that on a loan rather than out of the petty cash, but can I ask for a ballpark figure on how much that cost?

The heat pump and asociated stuff came with the house when we bought it, as did a 4K solar array and inverter. The builder/seller of the house paid a total of £40,000 for that, 14 years ago.

After much to-ing and fro-ing with Western Power, we eventually managed to install another 4k array, three batteries of 30KwHr total capacity and the associated inverter for just over £28,000. This included £1000 for the scaffolding and all the installation & commisioning costs.

In October, we'll spend another £11,000 on another 4k array, a bigger inverter, a UPS system (so we still have power from the batteries and panels if the grid gets washed away in the next big storm or financial meltdown of the electricy supplier spivs) and the transfer of the current new inverter to the old solar panel 4K array, as the old inverter they use is at end of life (13 years).

£1000 of that will be the scaffolding necessary to put up more panels and to connect the old ones to their inverter replacement via an in-parallel rather than the current in-series set of connectors. All installation & commisioning costs are also included in that price.

So .... expensive. But if we had none of it, the house would probably cost us £4000 a year in e-juice at a single rate, since everything is electric, even the car. So, ten years and it's paid for itself in e-juice savinbgs. Less, if the cost of e-juice keeps going up.

We get some money back for uploading excess solar production the grid but also pay a low rate for grid electricity downloaded at night from the grid to the batteries, which are used as the e-source during the day.

We seem to only need the grid in winter (short and/or dull days) and a little bit through Spring/Summer.  We downloaded nothing from the grid during the recent 6 or 7 week hot spell. Even cloudy days through spring and summer see enough solar energy generated to run the house, as the warmer weather means the heating never comes on.

Avatar
brooksby replied to Cugel | 7 months ago
0 likes
Cugel wrote:
brooksby wrote:

I appreciate that you probably bought that on a loan rather than out of the petty cash, but can I ask for a ballpark figure on how much that cost?

<very detailed breakdown>

Wow.  Thanks for this, cugel.

 

(now - how many kidneys do I actually need...?)

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