Forget the elephant, there’s a mammoth in the room, and it’s terrorising northern England. Global warming has been a major – though largely unrecognised – factor in the floods that have crippled our country over the Christmas period. It is easy to think of climate change as a far-off problem we won’t have to worry about for years to come; all the talk of protecting the world for our children and our children’s children has distracted us from the fact that it is already happening.
Global temperatures are now one degree higher than pre-industrial levels, which is halfway to the two degree rise predicted to cause even more serious damage. The milestone of that one degree rise has coincided with a much more severe version of the El Niño climate phenomenon, as well as Britain’s first named storms, Abigail and Frank, which have brought about the horrendous flooding this winter.
Global warming and our visibly changing climate are unavoidably linked, but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, considering the political reaction to the flooding. Incredibly, some political figures, including Ukip’s Nigel Farage, have blamed the foreign aid budget, and argued that the money should be invested at home rather than helping desperate people abroad, effectively ignoring the real problem.
Climate change is hardly a new, radical concept. There is almost universal consensus amongst the scientific community that human-influenced warming is happening now, and as a direct result of our continually excessive emissions. 2016 marks the tenth anniversary of Al Gore’s famous documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which firmly established the issue in political conversation, yet we have failed to act since, largely because global warming is indeed “an inconvenient truth”.
The laughable claim of the coalition government being the “greenest ever” has proven to be utterly false. The Green Investment Bank was created to set aside funding for projects to combat global warming – until the government sold it to private investors. The solar industry was close to being able to survive without subsidies when the Conservatives ripped them away, crippling a vital source of renewable energy in the process. The government would rather settle for hydraulic fracking, and the risks that accompany it, than invest in safer, cleaner and more progressive sources.
Cameron recognises that global warming is happening, and that it is a problem, but he refuses to do anything about it, because he is still at the mercy of the oil companies. Our failure to move on from fossil fuels is gradually killing the planet, but it remains a highly profitable industry, and so is allowed to continue; oil is such a valuable commodity that some are prepared to buy it from Isis, without a thought as to what they might do with the money. Yet switching from fossil fuels is an ideologically impossible option for the Conservatives. It requires a serious amount of public investment and patience, which is unlikely to be found in a government that prioritises short term financial gain over long term planning. Private companies cannot properly get started with renewable energy without subsidies; incidentally, fossil fuel industries continue to receive subsidies, despite their enormous dominance.
It would be nice to think that having half of the country forced to swim back to work would be enough to impress upon Cameron the urgency of the issue. Unfortunately, it probably won’t. Public pressure on the government is the only way we are going to see any real action, and for that to happen, the public needs to care more. The time has come to improve the narrative around global warming. This can no longer be viewed as a debate. Given the scale of the flooding, it must be recognised as a crisis that is happening now, and will only get worse if we fail to act.
The best way to expand on the global warming narrative is to focus on the positives. Obviously, there is nothing good about the catastrophes caused by climate change, but there is plenty of potential when it comes to our response. A thriving renewables industry would provide us with the security of energy sources that will outlast the human race, removing the fear of the inevitable exhaustion of fossil fuel reserves. Our cities will become less polluted; our country will be safer from the threat of flooding, and vulnerable parts of the planet will remain habitable, providing stability for families across the world. The flooding of Christmas 2015 might be an early sign of a coming apocalypse, but it can inspire us to create a better world.