Climate change deniers need to wake up - the window for action is diminishing rapidly

7 September 2023, 12:53

The realities of climate change are already hitting home, writes Natasha Devon
The realities of climate change are already hitting home, writes Natasha Devon. Picture: Alamy
Natasha Devon MBE

By Natasha Devon MBE

When Rishi Sunak announced one hundred new oil and gas licences were being issued in the North Sea a month ago, most of the country were baffled.

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Oxfam’s climate policy adviser, Lyndsay Walsh, said: “Extracting more fossil fuels from the North Sea will send a wrecking ball through the UK’s climate commitments at a time when we should be investing in a just transition to a low-carbon economy and our own abundant renewables.”

Until that point, successive conservative prime ministers had reassured us that they were committed to tackling environmental concerns. Whether their promises on net zero were sufficient given the urgency of climate change is another matter, but they certainly talked a good game.

Sunak's shock announcement was seized upon by those who have a vested interest in denying the reality of man-made climate change. A fierce debate was reignited and net zero was added to the long list of culture war issues, alongside the Duchess of Sussex, refugees, the rights of transgender people and the existence of structural racism.

On the surface, climate change might not seem like an obviously political topic. After all nothing - not the economy, migration, education, the NHS - actually matters if the human race has died out because weather conditions have rendered our planet uninhabitable for us.

However, as brilliantly explained by scientist David Robert Grimes in his book The Irrational Ape, the logic works thusly: To acknowledge the impact humanity is having on the environment would involve putting restrictions on businesses. Therefore, if one believes in completely unincumbered free market capitalism, one has to find a way of avoiding acknowledging the necessity for businesses to amend their behaviour. Most people wish to believe they are good people. A free market capitalist cannot therefore go around thinking 'stuff the planet and all its species including human beings of the future, money is more important'.

The solution is to cling to the (thoroughly debunked by reputable experts) idea that nothing humankind can do will make a difference to the climate. After all, it's impossible for even the most bone-headed to deny the reality of climate change whilst witnessing freak weather across the globe, so instead they claim 'I can see the climate is changing, but the climate on earth has always changed naturally, this is not caused by the activities of humankind'.

Anyone who is still labouring under this delusion needs to watch episode five of Chris Packham's brilliant series 'Earth'. As you will learn if you listen to Chris (or indeed the 97% of specialised scientists who have reached a consensus that manmade climate change is a) real and b) urgent) our window for taking action is diminishing rapidly. Climate induced mass migration and dwindling food and water supplies are already a reality in the Global South and will soon impact the entire planet.

The problem is that we don't like change, especially when it inconveniences us, and we are predisposed to think unfavourably of any politician who implements it. Just look at the response to ULEZ. Ministers can make promises of reaching our net zero target by 2050, but they know it will be someone else's problem by then. This is evidenced by the fact that in order to be on course for our own net zero pledge we would have had to have halved our net emissions between 2010 and 2030, when in reality they have increased by around 15%. Many of the promises made also rely on so-called 'unicorn' technology (i.e. tech that either hasn't been invented or doesn't work yet).

To avoid taking decisive action, it's not necessary to convince the entire population that climate change isn't an issue. It's enough to sow the seeds of doubt. This was a tactic deliberately employed by fossil fuel providers once the evidence of their impact on the earth was uncovered by scientists several decades ago: The strategy became one not of outright denial, but of inducing confusion.

The existence of social media and twenty four hour rolling news has made this task easier than it's ever been in 2023. Just the possibility that a YouTuber, or pundit from a mysteriously funded think-tank claiming we're over-reacting to climate concerns *could* be right might be enough to paralyse us into inaction. It enables our biggest enemy in the fight against climate change: Apathy.

Most of us don't think we have the power to do anything about problems of this magnitude. Yet we are the people who put politicians in power. If we make it clear that our voting intentions will be shaped by who has the most decisive green policies, progress will be made.