The stakes are high in the battle against instant gratification

By Pascale Palmer
October 20, 2011

Mexico is chewing over whether a two-year opt out clause in the marriage contract might lessen the mess of divorce.

For crying out loud people - have we all forgotten what long-term means? When did being a flibbertigibbet become something we should prepare for; Puckishness be so common we have to offer safeguards against it? When did society so accept its ability to dither, falter, vacillate that we had to allow for it legally? I’m not entering the debate on divorce here, I’m criticising a society that doesn’t know how to deal with or deal with communicating what comes after the immediate hit, buzz, kick, fix; that thinks looking for the panic button or moving on may well be the natural phase after instant gratification, when the horizon glowers.

Taken to the macro-scale, when are we going to wise up to the sweetie shop manifestos that fit projects to the span of the electoral term, rather than the good of a people, a country, or joint international progress? Incredibly, (it may seem to some) many worthwhile goals need longer than four or five years to deliver, then some more time to get right and then righter – and again incredibly – such ideas need full-on cross-party support that keeps the keel even until we have a new whatever in place, something worthwhile - something worth the wait.

I also want to know when we’re going to make some proper noise about governments letting stinking rich lobby groups dictate our access to the truth so that quick fixes become all they dare let us see - even if they are detrimental to the bigger goals - as though we couldn’t possibly deal with the bumpy roads and the hard times that are an inevitable part of gleaning long-term benefits. What I’m circuitously launching into here is climate change: one heck of a long-term problem caused by short-termism and now not being addressed adequately because the real solutions have very little of the scent of instant gratification and are being overpowered by the stench of a congealing oil lobby.

This week, environmental think tank the World Resources Institute released its latest review of climate science from 2009-2010. Did you hear about it? I doubt it very much. And why should you have? There’s absolutely no reason why a credible round-up of something that is affecting millions of people and will eventually affect us adversely (beyond the ability to grow grapes in the north of England), should alight upon your ears through one medium or another, perhaps via the lips of politicians, science experts, journalists, or maybe X-Factor judges or celebrities dancing on Strictly. And let’s face it – there’s a lot of instant gratification news around at the moment; there’s definitely enough shiny-shiny, jingle-jangle to keep us away from the idea that we need to buckle down and stop the world frying.

So here are some headline findings from the WRI:

- 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record since 1880

- Emperor penguins are on the decline with a 36 per cent chance of near extinction by 2100

- India’s monsoons are growing more unpredictable in timing and strength

- Current economic models suggest that a rise in temperature of 10C would have the equivalent effect to a major recession – researchers point out that this might actually render half the planet uninhabitable

- Reduction of sea ice cover in the Barents and Kara Seas could lead to a cycle of cooling and warming that sucks heat out of Europe, leading to very cold winters

- In North Africa’s Sahel region rainfall changes are impacting agriculture and the ability of communities to adapt and cope. Research shows that by the end of this century, with a mid-range warming scenario, the rainy season will start later by three to four days and be shorter by five days – thereby massively reducing crop yields

But let WRI tell you themselves.

And while this review of evidence should be being harnessed by the UK and other governments (along with the raft of daily-delivered information) to help us understand why we should be working hard – as individuals, as communities, as cities, as countries, as economies – to stop climate change, it is shoved away, left, ignored; and then to top it all, it is rubbished and besmirched by the same kinds of people who told us smoking does not hurt us.

Australian journalist Graham Readfearn has written a blog this week about the fact that down under, the government has just agreed that carbon has a price. This is what Readferns says:

"From 1 July 2012, Australia's largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions will have to pay a fixed price of $23 per tonne of pollution produced here. The price will rise to $25.40 per tonne in 2014/15. From 1 July 2015, an emissions trading scheme will be introduced where the government releases a fixed number of permits which major emitters will need to purchase through auctions. In the early stages, major industries will be given permits for free, but the assistance gets scaled back. The number of permits released by the government will be capped to enable Australia to cut its emissions by five per cent by 2020, based on 2000 levels."

But what he also says is that in the run up to this law being passed, there was a ferocious campaign to deter the outcome. During the reading of the bill it was revealed that the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies had funded British climate sceptic Lord Monkton to fly to Australia for a speech tour, and many more climate deniers joined the call to arms; and while huge amounts of cash were spent on advertising campaigns that talked down the bill, climate change scientists were receiving "abusive and threatening emails...One young researcher had excrement smeared on her car, another researcher was sent a message suggesting the sender would...introduce her child to the local paedophile."

All this to ensure the old order remains, to ensure the short-term profits of the fossil fuel-ers and their cronies keep rolling in: because the stakes are massive - billions of dollars right here right now, versus the long-haul R & D and behaviour change and political maelstrom as we make the shift towards solving climate change.

I, for one, would rather knuckle down so that we can stop the poorest suffering worse droughts, worse food shortages, worse floods; and so we can stop those scenarios eventually walking across our own thresholds in the rich countries; I would rather start trying to take this raging bull by the horns and work with and for the environment any day than be in thrall to the kind of people who rubbish hard facts and hard-working people, and who make fools of all of us.


© Pascale Palmer is Senior Policy Media Officer at CAFOD (

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