So I survived an earthquake the other day (by which I mean it was 6.3 on the Richter scale, located about 100 miles north-east of Malaga and the only real disturbance was the subsequent 5.3 magnitude tremor waking me up at 5.22am). Seeing as it was my birthday the night before you’ll pardon me for assuming the room shaking was the entirely self-induced affliction of a Jack Daniels or three.
Although earthquakes are unconnected to climate change, it got me thinking. Seeing as most of England has flooded and the US is currently undergoing The Day After Tomorrow there is a remarkable absence of people decrying global warming. Have they been sidelined? Is there a scientific explanation that somehow makes climate change an irrelevant explanation (albeit there is no unusual pattern of weather that I can think of which has not been labelled as such in the last fifteen years)?
It’s not just that. If there’s a curious absence of people heralding the end of the world on the news (with plenty of evidence to support it this time around) then the political debate has been woeful. Where are the emergency debates being convened to discuss the root cause of these weather disasters and not just debates about what has been done in response to them? Why is the same energy and political passion applied to matters of state not evolving and expanding to include weather as a threat to national security on par with terror and energy availability?
Certainly, in the case of the Christmas Somerset floods, David Cameron chaired a Cobra committee meeting and the military was supplying personnel to assist. But that’s an issue of manpower, of numbers to deal with a catastrophe and relief aid. There is muscle on the ground, but we can’t shoot our way out of water or snow or heat in the long-term. We can’t negotiate or invade weather and whereas defence spending is subject to change and debates about what the military should be, there can be doubt that the only response to these weather changes is to invest more, much more, into acting unilaterally and deploying our diplomatic guile and soft power to persuade others to come around to the cause of preventing global disaster.
There’s a spider-web of factors to support this position. Natural disasters were once considered the novel development of the late 20th century when human concerns, like human rights and poverty, came to an international table previously dominated by military prowess and the Cold War.
Iraq and Afghanistan and continue to cast a long shadow that warns the next ten generations, like British involvement previously in Afghanistan in the 19th century, that meddling and decapitating governments will lead to ruin (although Edmund Burke warned about this first with the French Revolution). Has this mentality, this reluctance to engage, affected our belief as a country that we should, or can, stick our noses and dictate about plastic consumption, oil burning and renewable energy?
The issue is still seen, if we’re honest, as the penchant of wackos and lefties. It’s getting there but it’s not quite become an obligatory, guilt-inducing taboo to not recycle to not care about the world. We all walk about like it will be alright on the night, a problem for our successors and somehow, thanks to human ingenuity, we will find a way. Zoos will protect enough of the animals becoming extinct and truth be told we never went to half the places now being eradicated, so who cares? That is the prevailing orthodox.
But now it’s on our doorstep; it’s not Jihadist loons coming to get us but the ghost of energy and wastefulness past and Mother Nature is rightfully irked. To deny climate change should be in the purvey of academics with too much time on their hands looking to make a name for themselves whereas the rest of us should be dealing pragmatically with not drowning. It should be a matter of fact and as minimally cerebral as possible. Tackling cancer or HIV or poverty and hunger are just words that we’re used to, but with faces and stories next to them they form a humanity and a conscience that evokes action and change and progress.
People are losing their homes, their livelihoods and some are losing their lives. No longer are we talking about shrinking forests or parts of the world we can’t pronounce but our own little corner of the globe that is slowly being engulfed by the sea that once allowed us to spread and build and empire.
Perhaps raising awareness of climate change and changing weather has transformed into an entrenched cognitive dissonance; a reluctance to see what’s happening and instead we’re all just taking it as the norm. In Scotland alone we seem to accept winter will mean winter deaths on the scale of a natural disaster (because that is precisely what it is). Winter deaths (see below), particularly in those over 65, are an absurdly established and accepted reality, despite 3790 elderly people dying in 2014/15 alone, the second highest record of winter fatalities since 1990 (National Records of Scotland: Winter Mortality in Scotland 2014/15).
If the situation wasn’t so tragically catastrophic it would be ironic and the subject of prose and poetry. Maybe that’s what we need; less romanticising about trees and dead animals and more written about the casualties of our own materialistic indulgence to torture our public conscience in the same way war poetry can still tug at the soul and remind us of the horrors of battles long forgot.
No, hugging a tree and recycling a single bag won’t do the job. But our leaders are masters of standing up and saying what is happening but offer little rhetoric to persuade us to tackle the source of why these climate changes are occurring. We need leaders that can do for global survival what Churchill did for Britain’s survival; eloquent, powerful gut-stirring stuff that takes us beyond sharing pictures on Facebook and into the realm and mentality of fighting to survive.
If you don’t like global warming, fine. If climate change is a loaded term for you, fine. But on a practical, empirical basis you would be hard pressed to find anyone that could consider what is happening as being in the national interest of the UK or conducive to business, politics or society.
Politicians must frame the narrative in a way that moves beyond the cerebral and embraces the reality of the dystopian future that is appearing before our eyes. Food scarcity and weather change are factors which have evolved into casual problems and they should be dealt with as surely and decisively and as unapologetically as we deal with enemies of the state.