Why you can't 'believe' in climate change

By Pascale Palmer
December 5, 2011

So most of the observed climate change of the last 60 years is human-made. A new study by a couple of Swiss scientists has put the figure for human-made or anthropogenic climate change at at least 74 per cent, with the chance that no more than a quarter of any change can be attributed to natural climate variability.

And so we have another solid piece of evidence that shows we’re utterly right to be trying to cut country emissions and get everyone on a low carbon economic pathway. But the problem is, since the beginning of all these UN meetings the evidence has been there – of course it has been, otherwise the UNFCCC wouldn’t exist, politicians from all over the world wouldn’t participate, presidents and prime ministers wouldn’t be compelled to have environmental policies and Kyoto wouldn’t have had a first commitment period, let alone the wrangling towards a second. It’s not a case of ‘I believe in climate change’ – it’s not a belief system that you can opt in and out of according to your personal take on life – it’s like gravity, it’s like the speed of light or sound, it’s plate tectonics, it’s the hole in the ozone layer, it is evolution: it is a truth.

For more than a century, we have been amassing evidence and support for this truth. Scientists and NGOs and many politicians have been arguing for the need for urgent action due to this truth, but by its very nature, this culture of report after report – of development case studies and research models that show how climate change is and will impact the poorest, those living in the eye of weather extremes, those who grow the food we eat, water systems, water cycles, ecosystems, habitats – makes it feel like we’re pushing one side of an argument. It is not a debate, a point of view, it is a reality, just as the collapse of the Eurozone is a reality.

The mood at the climate talks in Durban is starting to change, NGOs especially want governments to stop procrastinating and waiting on yet more assessments and papers, we want action, we have to have movement towards solid agreement to peak and reduce emissions, otherwise we risk global temperatures exceeding the two degree consensus limit of safety. Already small island states are here to lobby for their nations' lives, indigenous groups from Latin America are here to tell the story of how they are having to move and move again because traditional water sources are depleted or gone completely, Kenyans are here to speak out for their country’s regions affected by drought after drought after drought.

Climate change makes people unable to stay in their homelands, it removes livelihoods, it damages local and national economies, it destroys the ecosystems and species that service mankind, and it kills people.

UK chancellor George Osborne said in his Autumn statement: “We are not going to save out planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers. All we will be doing is exporting valuable jobs out of Britain.”

Economic meltdown is a real and present danger brought on by a broken global system of markets and finance. It is massively important that everything that can be done is done to maintain stability and shore up nations but we cannot and must not stem the flow of blood from this economic wound while ignoring the potentially fatal disease that is eating its way through the flesh of this planet.

Osborne’s statement is a massive step backwards, it reneges on the state’s role within the social contract to protect its citizens. And the moral bankruptcy that encourages a nation to turn its face from the support and help needed by those worse off than ourselves in other countries is astounding. It is desperately disappointing that this government that promised to be the greenest is bleeding true blue when backed into an economic corner. Not only is the Chancellor talking as though he thinks we’re still living in the days of the dark Satanic mills of Empire, but he is refusing to see that he has the opportunity to take both economic and climate bulls by the horns and feed a new green model into the failed systems to build economic resilience and safeguard our environmental future, which ultimately is just our future.

Apparently there are five days left to save the Euro. And this morning on the news I watched an Italian minister cry. The Euro crisis is inevitably at the top of the agenda across European capitals, but in Durban at the climate talks we also have just five days to ensure that the world makes the right decisions that can prevent a series of catastrophes that soon we will have no measures to solve.


© Pascale Palmer is Senior Policy Media Officer for CAFOD. www.cafod.org.uk

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