The rich can take a guilt-edged stance on climate change, says Roger Ratcliffe

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Climbing towards one of my favourite Yorkshire summits in the teeth of Storm Dennis, I began to sing that old Elvis Costello song, I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down. By my third or fourth rendition of the chorus I was sprawled out on the peaty fellside laughing incredulously as I struggled to regain my feet.

I abandoned the climb, of course and beat a hasty descent to the calmer pastures of Wharfedale while cursing this winter’s crap weather and musing that we might see Storm Zachariah before the year is out. But if that’s the greatest inconvenience I suffer it’s okay by me. It’s a minute fraction of the problems – the unimaginable misery – experienced by thousands of people who have had their homes and businesses flooded.

After the wettest February on record am I the only person wondering in my bleakest moments if this is the way it’s going to be from now on? Has climate change gone past the tipping point? Trying to stay positive, though, there is plenty of advice out there on how we can change our habits and potentially reverse the process. Carbon neutrality is now the holy grail, although I can’t help thinking there is a lot of wishful thinking and even political dishonesty attached to these carbon neutral targets. I mean seriously, can we kick the carbon habit in a couple of decades when we have been burning wood and fossil fuels to cook and keep warm since the Stone Age?

The biggest weapon to make us change is guilt, and it’s certainly worked with me. My car usage is much less than a year ago and I take public transport whenever I can. But that’s not enough, it seems. Every time I get on a plane I’m vastly increasing my carbon footprint. The Leeds to Malaga flight, for example, means that each passenger is adding roughly 600lb of carbon to the atmosphere. And if you’re a carnivore like me you can double the guilt. Livestock farming is said to be responsible for about 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is not a pleasant thought to have while eating
a plate of albondigas meatballs on the Costa del Sol.

Some squillionaire vegans have launched a campaign to make us eat seeds, beans, grains and nuts. In fact, an irritating aspect of the carbon debate is that rich and famous people lecture us on our travelling and eating habits by flaunting their carbon offsetting credentials. For example, if you take a private jet from Vancouver to Miami, which by an extraordinary coincidence was recently done by the soon-to-be ex-Royal Sussexes, you can compensate for the trip by simply making a cash payment to a company that plants carbon-soaking trees.

To me this smacks of the swear box my grandma used to have in the kitchen. Anyone heard using a profanity – even “bloody” was banned – had to stump up 10p. There’s also a whiff of Catholic confession about it, whereby you can be as sinful as you like but the slate is wiped clean when you tell all to a priest.

By all means, let us all try and burn less carbon fuels. But personally I’m going to draw the line at planting a row of sprouts every time I have a steak.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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