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Time to stop talking and start acting

first_imgWhen scientists look back on this period in our history, one has to wonder what they’re going to think of recent years.In the last twelve months alone, we’ve had a tsunami that has wiped out an entire generation, a hurricane that brought a superpower to its knees, an earthquake that has devastated one of the poorest parts of the world and now Europe itself is faced with the prospect of a flu pandemic (avian or otherwise) that our Chief Medical officer believes to be “inevitable”.Such a confluence of events does seem to suggest that something is going awry. I can’t claim any in-depth knowledge of climatology, but I think I speak for most people when I say that it’s beginning to get more than just a bit scary. The world is turning against us, and we seem to be looking the other way.There may be no direct link between the natural disasters of the last twelve months and the climate crisis currently gripping our planet, but it goes far enough to show us the true, devastating, terrifying force of nature when it is unleashed.What we seem to be doing to ourselves at the moment, with our continued disregard for the environment, is bringing on a huge catastrophe one degree at a time.The global warming threat is an epidemic in the same way that bird flu may end up in the comingmonths. It is an epidemic that is induced by individuals. The potentially catastrophic effects of bird flu, however, will come and go – the steady, gradual creep of climate change will not be so rapid.So, what is the solution? It seems pretty straightforward to say that international consensus is required before we move any further.The Kyoto Protocol was an attempt to reach that consensus, but has since failed spectacularly; failing to sign up the US, India and China, who between them create 50% of the world’s harmful emissions. Back at home in the UK, we not only ratified Kyoto but also set a 20% reduction target for CO2 emissions.It’s easy to set the targets and reaffirm them time and time again, but they have to be met with delivery and, as Dieter Helm and may other environmental economists have been pointing out, the UK is failing to deliver.Further worrying signs came from the Prime Minister at the end of September when he said both at the launch of Bill Clinton’s ‘Global Initiative’ and in at the Labour Party Conference that “no country is going to cut its growth” to achieve the Kyoto targets.True, perhaps, but this kind of defeatist attitude will get us nowhere. The sad thing about Kyoto is that it’s not perfect, but it’s the best we’re going to get for the foreseeable future. It does not help the cause however, if the UK begins to backtrack on its commitment to pushing Kyoto worldwide.Supporting it at home is one thing, but our long term interests are only going to be met by a sustained global effort. To hear Blair suggest on the one hand that Kyoto is bound for failure on the world stage and, on the other, that Britain remains committed to the Kyoto pledges sends out mixed messages to say the least.If we are to address this problem with the seriousness it deserves, we shouldn’t be backing down, despite our reservations over the commitment of nations such as the US or China, we should be pushing the climate change agenda not for our own interests, but for the global interest.For those among you lucky enough to be lectured by Dieter Helm in environmental economics,you’ll have heard him talk about “future people”, namely, our sons, daughters, grandchildrenand beyond.In essence, it is their interests that we’re trying to protect. It’s unlikely that we’re going to feel the worst effects of global warming, but they will. Climate change is not a temporaryissue: it shouldn’t be allowed to simply slip off the agenda.‘Alarmism’ is a criticism often levelled at environmentalists who attempt to bring these issues into the public eye. I’m sure that some will criticise this article as alarmist. Climate change, however, is something we should be alarmed about. Unlike the natural disasters we have witnessed recently, we have plenty of warnings about this latest threat and we do have the power to avert it.Our leaders cannot stick their fingers in their ears for much longer – either we act now or the next generation will face a worse and even more dangerous natural disaster.Martin McCluskey is Co-Chair of Oxford University Labour ClubARCHIVE: 3rd week MT 2005last_img read more

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