Wednesday, 4 July 2007

*Climate change and the flat earth society

From Green Assembly Member jenny Jones's blog on The Guardian website 'comment is free'

I was almost convinced that Live Earth was one US import that we wouldn't bother watching as it seemed so... well, yesterday. After all, we'd all got the message by now, hadn't we? Global warming, big floods, mass disruption, polar bears treading water and great English wine. Al Gore's 'Inconvenient Truth' was a brilliant wake up call, but I had the feeling that us Brits were awake, finishing breakfast and keen to start doing things. I was particularly reassured by a recent poll which showed that four out of five Londoners believed that climate change was a significant problem. But now I find that a majority of my fellow citizens in the rest of the country are apparently still sceptics and are at the yawning stage of getting their brains to work. The big question is why?

I could blame the American oil men who fund the dubious research into climate change which then appears on even more dubious documentary programs. I could blame the media for sensationalist headlines and over kill stories of imminent world wide disaster, which subsequently breeds a healthy cynicism about the science. Except, I've been banging on about climate change for the last twenty years and I know how far we've come in the scientists being allowed to get the truth across in a measured, reasonable way. No, I blame the government.

As one of the government's favourite think tanks (the IPPR), has shown a big reason why people are sceptical about the seriousness of climate change is that there's a huge gap between the catastrophic biblical imagery of rising tides and spreading deserts, and the mundane insignificant actions that are recommended as solutions. There is a mismatch between talk of melting ice caps and ministerial advice that everyone should switch off their lights when they leave the room. On the one hand we had Tony Blair calling climate change the greatest challenge facing humanity and on the other, we have a government reassurance that it won't mean an end to cheap flights, plasma screens, patio heaters and a four by four in the drive. Where is the great personal challenge, when all we have to do is change our light bulbs to low energy? People aren't completely convinced because the government is making it all sound so easy and painless.

Perhaps the reason why 80% of Londoners saw climate change as a serious issue is simply because they are being confronted with some real decision making. Higher parking charges for gas guzzlers are being considered in most local councils and a £25 congestion charge for the big polluters is going to be a hot issue in next year's Mayoral elections. Hundreds of thousands of Londoners are having 'advisers' knocking on their doors asking them if they want help with travelling in a more sustainable way and similar plans are being drawn up for schools and workplaces.

Given the wealth of evidence supporting climate change, it is a failure of government that people still fail to realise the significance of this issue. When politicians take a clear lead, as they have in London, the result is clear. Following the introduction of the congestion charge, projects to increase cycling, and work on the energy efficiency of homes, over 80% of Londoners believe that climate change is a significant problem.

Climate change is a classic case of actions speaking louder than words. Rather than producing more hot air, national government should follow London's example and look at measures which support those Londoners who do take climate change seriously. This weekend London is hosting two big events which will promote action on the environment. Both the Live Earth concert and the prologue of the Tour de France will encourage people to do their bit by saving energy and cycling more. But real change can only be achieved if individual action is backed up by hard government decisions aimed at fundamentally changing the way we live.

No comments: