Spring flowers are blooming as the mercury rises into the high teens: midwinter in the era of global warming. Meanwhile, the delegates to last week’s climate change conference in Paris shuffle off home, congratulating themselves on a job well done.
It’s curious, this air of satisfaction with the conference outcomes. After the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 failed to agree a legally-binding treaty to slow global warming, it was generally agreed that that is what it was: a dismal failure. This time, however, politicians and the mainstream media have been pushing the narrative of a job well done: an agreement hailed as ‘historic, durable and ambitious’.
But, although the targets set at Paris are ambitious, they are voluntary and are unlikely to be met. Though the objective is an ambitious limit to global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees centigrade, countries are free to promise whatever they want, and there’s no penalty if they break these promises. And no new money is promised to help developing countries address climate change, or to compensate them for the damage caused by rich countries’ emissions.
As if to make this abundantly clear, hours after returning from signing the Paris agreement, David Cameron has authorised savage cuts in subsidies to home-owners installing solar panels, and forced through the Commons measures to allow fracking for shale oil beneath national parks such as the Lake District. So much for progress towards a low-carbon, fossil-free future.
There could be no better example of the cognitive dissonance that characterises the attitude of big business and governments to the issue of climate change. You can see it in the fact that we will continue extracting oil, shale gas, coal and fracked oil from the ground when the science tells us that to avoid runaway climate change we should leave most of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
But it’s not only the political and business elites that suffer from cognitive dissonance: all of us, every day, are able to do one thing while believing we really ought not. We drive our cars, and we take flights.
But: carbon emissions from international shipping and flights don’t figure as greenhouse gas emissions according to the Paris Agreement – despite the fact that carbon emissions from international transportation already have as much climate impact as those from a major industrial state like Germany. Yet we keep on flying: emissions from international flights are on course to triple by 2050.
We are all in climate change denial, as Naomi Klein remarks in her latest book, This Changes Everything, which I’ve just started to read. She writes:
Living with this kind of cognitive dissonance is simply part of being alive at this jarring moment in history, when a crisis we have been studiously ignoring is hitting us in the face – and yet we are doubling down on the stuff that is causing the crisis in the first place.
I mentioned her book in a post last March when extracts from it were published by the Guardian at the launch of the newspaper’s commitment to expand coverage of the climate change crisis, campaign to keep remaining carbon reserves in the ground, and make the case for full divestment from polluting fossil fuel extraction companies.
This Changes Everything couldn’t be a more urgent read than now, as the UK Met Office reports that 2016 is set to be the warmest year ever recorded. I’ll keep you posted as I make progress with Klein’s book. Meanwhile, the book has spawned a website and inspired a film which, like the book, poses the question:
What if global warming isn’t only a crisis? What if it’s the best chance we’re ever going to get to build a better world?