I find any news day that is heavy on George Osborne sound bites hard to bear. Among friends maybe he’s a nice guy, but his public persona is unbearably smug, arrogant and self-aggrandizing. He’s also a magician of some skill, and I always find magicians hard to trust. Witness his many great illusions, such as the one where he convinced so many people that profligate spending by the British Labour party caused the global financial crisis, rather than irresponsible and greedy lending and market fiddling by the banks. His latest trick is to pretend that poverty is somehow the product of giving poor people money, and that all one need do to ensure that they have more is to take some of that money away. Presto! But neither of these conjuring tricks was the biggest miraculously invisible elephant in the House of Commons debating chamber this lunchtime: that honour went to climate change.
Osborne showers tax breaks on oil and gas with one hand whilst taking money away from the already less generously subsidised renewable sector with the other. This despite the fact that only renewable energy really fits into any economic plan worthy of the epithet ‘long-term’ – the clue is in the word ‘renewable’! And that same tirelessly name check plan pays almost no regard to the likely severe impact of unchecked global climate change on the British economy. Either he’s a maniac who fully understands the risks and still opts to pursue short term political and personal gain instead, or he’s genuinely convinced himself that climate change isn’t really going to be much of a problem and there are far greater threats to our collective security, prosperity and happiness.
Unfortunately his apparent delusion is one shared by all of us to one extent or another. How many of us conservationists, for example, are really serious about cutting down our own emissions? How many so-called bird lovers give the climate a thought every time they leap in the car for another twitch? Is racing to 300 bird species for the UK before you get to 30, or 40 before you’re 400 really so important?
To make things worse, us conservationists have been known to come up with novel excuses for not acting on climate change. “It’s crowding out other issues and needs to take a back seat for a while”, we say, or “we can’t really quantify the risks with any accuracy so they’re not worth accounting for”. Fair enough, we can point out that many of the myriad other threats to wildlife – habitat loss, pollution, over extraction – haven’t gone away and are in many cases likely to get worse. I share the view that protecting nature for its own sake should be higher up the political agenda. But climate change acts as a deadly amplifier to all these other risks. Our current parochial concerns*, worthy as they are, will end up looking irrelevant once we’re living in a world that’s unrecognisable.
The madness of would-be King** George is the madness of all of us. We’re not at the point of no return yet*** – but time will run out eventually if we’re to avoid the very worst scenarios laid out by the IPCC. Later this year, world leaders will be meeting in Paris to hammer out a new global deal on climate action. A lot of passionate people who both say and do the right things on climate will be making a lot of noise to encourage a strong, decisive and just result. But there aren’t enough of them yet, and it’s time for me and anybody else who claims to care about nature, or the fate of our neighbours around the world, to join their number. If I’m lucky, we’ll knock the smirk off George Osborne’s face along the way – or even better, force him into an unlikely U-turn.
*It’s worth keeping an eye on issues that seem parochial at first glance but fit into a climate change paradigm if you think about them laterally. These are fertile grounds for ‘think globally, act locally’ style campaigns: take the current debate about hen harrier persecution on driven grouse moors, for example, and add in the protection of blanket bogs for carbon storage.
**His ambition stretches at least to PM, anyway!
***An activist friend of mine wisely counsels that being over-alarmist and veering away from the facts as far as we know them is counter productive.