The Amnesia of Climate Change

What’s going on with this weather? I have just had breakfast on my patio, where it was so warm I took off my T-shirt and enjoyed the warm sunshine on my face and body – but its only the second week in January! Meanwhile most of the northern US endures record low temperatures, while dry seasons are broken by deluges and monsoon seasons start later or don’t last long enough.

Kitten and I

Now to cause an argument: One of the biggest problems facing the world today is global warming. Many scientists believe that our production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is having a heating effect on the atmosphere, and this could have a catastrophic effect for human life. Note the use of the word ‘could’ as appose to ‘will’ Although even this will have some of those already polarized into the agree or disagree camps, spitting feathers. Those who disagree will claim there is still insufficient evidence to make a definitive call either way, and advocate an argument that the world regularly goes through periods of heating and cooling and that we should not worry too much the Earth can regulate itself. While those that agree with my statement will say that I did not go far enough and point to the avalanche of evidence that grows every day, such as the fact that the last 12 years have featured in the top 14 record world temperatures years since record began. If you can be bothered – you can sift through some of the science here.

Are you bothered? Maybe, maybe not? You know, that really seems to be the problem nowadays – campaign or pressure group fatigue. Yes there’s a world recession that diverts some of our attention and seemingly a new catastrophe every week, like Syria and recent natural disasters in the Philippines and before that, an earthquake and tsunami in Japan to dilute our limited reserves of compassion. Indeed, some argue that our ever changing, ever more connected world is gradually shifting our attention away from those things that really matter towards an ever more dumbed down life of distractions and dubious entertainment-fluff that many of us now consume from our lap-tops and devices; where we now no longer value and measure ourselves and our achievements by what we can do for the greater good, but by the numbers of social media friends and followers we somehow need to validate our existence.

Many of us believed there was a problem with the weather long before Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, won him and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that Nobel Peace prize. But the film was made almost 10 years ago, and in that time, despite an initial flurry of interest and grand expectations such as the Copenhagen conference on climate change, which was ultimately scuppered by India and China, the world seems no further forward with its achievable goals and tariffs now so watered down, they will barely slow down the rise in temperatures let alone stop or reverse them.

You may remember George W Bush’s oil and coal lobby buddies lining up, at the time, with an endless list of experts who at best simply questioned the evidence or at worst told downright lies for money just to keep the good times rolling for a few more years. If you go back further the same thing happened with the tobacco industry. For decades tobacco advertising centred on the smokers self image, by association with brand X or Y, some even went further and suggested that smoking was indeed good for you. However, as country after country gradually came out and recognising smoking as a very serious health risk, the lobbyists went into overdrive and changed their strategy to claim that the science of tobacco was uncertain, and called into question each and every medical and scientific finding that came out, while at the same time continuing to spend millions lobbying governments all over the world. In some ways the US gun lobby employs a similar strategy, when challenging any attempt at gun control laws, by bizarrely claiming, despite the evidence, that more guns actually equals safer streets.

Unfortunately, these two issues pale into insignificance when you compare them against the issue of climate change. Most of those big tobacco companies, were eventually dragged kicking and screaming into court and forced to acknowledge that they were actually pedalling death. The result was that billions of dollars was paid out in fines and sanctions on their businesses, while at the same time they were ordered to load packaging with graphic warnings about the deadly risks their product carries. A similar thing will almost certainly happen with gun control. However, what will happen with climate change? Who will pay that price?

Unlike those two insidious industries eventual and inevitable contrition; forced on them by a more educated public opinion and the massive financial penalties passed down from the courts – who will pay the price for what happens to our world in the coming years? The fossil fuel companies like gas, oil and coal? Individual governments like China, who continue to poison the inhabitants of their cities with toxic smog? Indeed, what good would billions, trillions or even a trillion trillion dollars be, when life on this planet starts to become both intolerable and untenable? Who will pay for that?

The people who will pay for that will be our, children, our children’s-children and every subsequent generation, forced to suffer and maybe even suffocate because we just couldn’t be bothered or were too distracted to see it as our problem today.


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