Sometimes it can be hard to grasp the severity of climate change. Ice caps melting, coral reef dying, emaciated polar bears scrabbling around looking for food. The images are disturbing, but it is easy to trick yourself into believing the devastating effects of our lifestyles are taking place somewhere far away, almost on a different planet.
The consequences feel remote, and as a result it’s been too convenient for politicians to turn a blind eye to global warming. Climate change isn’t an exciting topic to take on the campaign trail when there’s a refugee crisis, child poverty and the small matter of Brexit to discuss. It’s been pushed down the agenda – a problem for a later day, something a future generation will have to deal with. Until now.
Last week’s report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is one that cannot be ignored. It should be put on the top of every pile of paperwork in government buildings across the world until a solution is reached.
The IPCC’s report is foreboding: at our current rate of emissions we have just 12 years for global warming to be kept at a maximum of 1.5C. Once we hit that point even half a degree will significantly increase the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
The predicted consequences are catastrophic, and yet the silence from politicians and the media is deafening. Last Monday, when the report was released, seven UK newspapers decided the report wasn’t worthy of a mention on their front pages. Instead, a drunken kiss between two Strictly Come Dancing contestants was considered to be the most important story of the day for most national titles.
Climate change may or may not sell newspapers, and it may or may not swing votes, but this is something that is bigger than all of us, and we have a collective responsibility to address it.
Just this year alone in the north we have witnessed the effects of global warming – baking hot summer, wildfires on Saddleworth Moor and Winter Hill – and the consequences are not over now temperatures have dropped.
Climate change is no longer just about coral reef and ice caps melting. It’s about communities, livelihoods and the future of entire species, including our own.
And yet in the same week that the UN issued its warning across the globe, Cuadrilla announced plans to resume fracking at the Preston New Road site near Blackpool. And just hours after the world’s leading scientists called for urgent action to phase out fossil fuels, a letter written by energy minister Claire Perry was brought to light after it was unearthed by Greenpeace’s investigations unit. In the letter, Perry suggests fracking laws on earthquakes could be relaxed to encourage more drilling, meaning the level at which operations to extract shale gas must be halted could be raised.
What a bizarre democracy we are living in, when the government refuses to reconsider plans to commit to an uncertain Brexit that nobody voted for, and yet is willing to overturn the vote of local people to kickstart a new fossil fuel industry in the wake of a global heatwave and a stark warning from the world’s scientists. A bizarre democracy indeed.