Why don’t we just… stop climate change

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Last year was the hottest on record. The year before had been the hottest on record too – and the one before that as well. This year looks set to be, if not yet another record breaker, at least one of the top two.

This is climate change and we are now living with the effects of those rising temperatures. The devastation caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma was made worse by seas that were hotter because of climate change. Global warming made the 2014 floods in southern England more likely too. The same goes for storms, heatwaves and droughts the world over.

Now that billions of people are suffering the reality of climate change, will the world finally deal with the problem?

The good news is the world has indeed started doing something about it. For the first time in the modern age, global emissions have stopped increasing, not because of a recession but because of decisions to cut pollution.

But it’s not good enough that global emissions have stopped increasing – they need to fall fast. In fact, to avoid climate change getting much worse than it is already, the world must eliminate emissions entirely within a generation. If I was in a car racing towards the edge of a cliff I would be glad if the driver stopped accelerating, but I would still be desperate for them to step on the brake.

So far the world has stopped emissions from rising without having to do anything too difficult. Most people are happy about changes that also clean up their polluted air, like closing coal power stations, or rules that make their fridges and washing machines more efficient.

But pressing the brake will be harder. Soon we will have to confront the polluting lifestyles that most people don’t want to give up, particularly flying and eating meat. Emissions from those are growing at a time when the world should be cleaning up.

Unless we deal with flying and meat eating the world’s inhabitants will be condemned to much worse climate change than we face today. Yet it would be a brave politician who suggested that voters should cut back on the things they enjoy. So the world keeps racing towards the cliff edge.

This will only change if politicians believe the public are ready to make sacrifices to stop extreme climate change. But at the moment, most people aren’t. Millions of people in the UK, in fact, the majority of people, recognise that climate change is an immense problem – but they don’t think about it much. They want the threat to be dealt with, but they don’t see it as an issue that affects them or one they need to change their lives to address.

There is a way to fix this. The answer lies with the people who realise what extreme climate change would be like, and are ready to cut their own emissions. For now those people are in a minority, but if they persuaded their friends and family that it’s worth making the effort to stop climate change getting even worse, the balance would swing.

Those of us who are worried about global warming have both scientific evidence and the power of stories on our side. Neither facts nor emotion alone are enough – we need to get better at using both if we are to change the minds of the millions who are apathetic about climate change. Until we do, we will just be fiddling while the world burns.

The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism by Leo Barasi is published by New Internationalist on 21 September

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Interact: Responses to Why don’t we just… stop climate change

  • Noise of the Crowd » Blog Archive Why don't we just stop climate change? - Noise of the Crowd - Interesting things about public opinion
    17 Oct 2017 06:47
    […] This was originally published by Big Issue North […]
  • dennisa
    27 Sep 2017 08:48
    "Last year was the hottest on record." Depends on whose record and the re-adjusting of early 20thC data to fit the theory. "This is climate change." It is? What was it in earlier centuries, when the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than now? "The devastation caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma was made worse by seas that were hotter because of climate change. " No they were not. Sea temperatures vary on a cyclical basis and were not as high as expected. There are other factors involved in hurricane formation. "Global warming made the 2014 floods in southern England more likely too. " There is no current warming based on satellite data and absolutely no evidence for your statement. "The same goes for storms, heatwaves and droughts the world over." The current climates around the world are not "unprecedented" and extreme weather in previous centuries was considerably worse and more damaging, with considerably higher death tolls than have happened with weather events in the last century or so. Your claims are totally without foundation and you seek punitive measures against energy use which will only affect the poor and disadvantaged in society, with no effect whatsoever on the climate.
  • Rod
    25 Sep 2017 17:16
    We don't stop climate change because we have no influence over climate!

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