We need to talk about climate change

Comment

The issue of climate change has been put on the sideline of politics for too long and left to charities, NGOs and activists to bring to the forefront of societal concerns. Climate change is an issue that affects us all and so should be given centre stage in any discussion of the future of our country. Unfortunately, none of our mainstream political parties – with the exception of the Green Party – seem to be taking seriously an issue that should be the number one consideration for voters and politicians alike.

The real problem here is that the other parties aren’t talking loudly enough about climate change and what they plan to do about it. A warming climate will mean more extreme weather, more droughts, more habitat loss and rising sea-levels across the world. It will affect people in low-lying regions, less developed countries that lack the infrastructure to protect themselves, and areas already on the margins of habitability more than it will directly hurt most people in the UK.

But that is no reason not to prioritise climate change now; the UK will be far from unscathed if we fail to take action. Climate change will mean more events like last winter’s floods that destroyed thousands of homes, or the 2003 and 2006 heatwaves that lead to thousands of deaths across the country. In the future it could mean flooding in London, and the arrival of invasive species and diseases. It will certainly mean a less beautiful, diverse and habitable world for generations to come.

The clock is ticking. The longer we delay behavioural changes that would make our lifestyles more sustainable and reduce our emissions of greenhouse gasses, the worse the effects will be. The UK can make a difference: if we take the plunge and makes radical changes now, the rest of the world will be more likely to follow our example.

Delaying these changes, meanwhile, means prolonging the slavery of consumerism. It means wasting food, energy and resources by orienting our lives around the meaningless goals of producing surplus goods and shopping and suffering from inequality, debt, widespread anxiety and depression as a result. It means denying the unemployed access to the huge host of potential useful and meaningful jobs that creating a low-emissions society would require, and it means continuing to see the spectacular natural environments of our planet plundered for resources we don’t actually need. Changing society to combat climate change would improve our lives and prospects by dealing with these and in a whole host of other ways. At the same time, the longer we put off research into protecting communities and adapting our cities and agriculture to cope with heat stress, the less prepared we will be when the extreme events come.

For the sake of our health, safety and well-being, it is essential that climate change prevention and adaptation are brought to the centre of all the decisions we make. Yet most politicians still focus on economic growth as the be-all-and-end-all, as though it were an ends in itself. Growth is often not evenly distributed, only making the rich richer, without benefiting the rest of society.  The happiest societies are the most equal, not the richest. And a focus on growth, and growth alone, certainly will not help us combat climate change.

If politics continues to focus on cutting the deficit, boosting the economy and tinkering with the smaller issues that face our society, we will have spectacularly failed to tackle the biggest problem we face. This would be the most disappointing of missed opportunities. Things could be even worse, if UKIP have a say on the matter: this political newcomer denies the very reality of human-induced climate change. We urgently need to talk in depth about climate change and its implications for every policy we discuss for the sake of everyone’s wellbeing. The tragedy is that without explicit Green representation, political debates are unlikely to even begin the conversation.

PHOTO/ Peter Van Marion