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Climate Change and the Student Fightback

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Tory ministers might be in denial about the reality of climate change and the urgent need to tackle it, but students and young people aren't. We are increasingly aware of the dangers climate change poses for our future and that's why it should come as no surprise that the rising environment movement is young, vibrant and determined to play our part in tackling this huge challenge. We certainly have our work cut out for us.

Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their landmark fifth report. The report details the physical evidence behind climate change; concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased, the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, and the global sea level has risen. The report also states with 95% certainty that humans are the dominant driving force behind climate change.

The report should serve as a stark warning to governments about the massive threat climate change poses to the planet - our only home. Already nearly 400,000 people die every year as a result of climate change, with 99% of these deaths occurring in developing countries. One of the most insidious features of climate change is that the poorest in the world, those who have done least to cause climate change, are suffering the most as crop failures, famine, disease and extreme weather caused by climate change ravage the planet.

Yet listening to Tory environment minister, Owen Paterson, speaking at Conservative Party conference this week you could be forgiven for thinking there was no urgency needed to address climate change:

"People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries."

The overwhelming body of evidence linking human activity to climate change is an inconvenient fact for people who would rather ignore the pressing urgency of tackling climate change. Luckily Mr Paterson has a novel response:

"Remember that for humans, the biggest cause of death is cold in winter, far bigger than heat in summer. It would also lead to longer growing seasons and you could extend growing a little further north into some of the colder areas."

An interesting response. Yet as professor Kevin Anderson, of Manchester University and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research pointed out:

"His view that we can muddle through climate change is a colonial, arrogant, rich person's view."

To suggest that climate change brings advantages ignores the enormous damage that climate change does, and will continue to do, to the lives of millions of the world's poorest. It is irresponsible and immoral.

And what action is the government taking on fuel poverty? Which in the winter of 2011/12 led to the deaths of 24,000 more people in Britain, while the big six energy companies raked in £3.3 billion in extra profits over the last three years? The truth is that energy companies have kept us hooked on increasingly expensive and polluting fossil fuels while making record profits.

The government's addiction to fossil fuels will drive thousands more people into fuel poverty, crash our carbon targets and ensure that our energy supply continues to be dominated by expensive, dirty fuel.

The obstacles to a cleaner, fairer energy system are political, not procedural.

It's becoming clearer than ever that our politicians have failed us. The government have failed to take the needs of future generations into account and students and young people have been left fighting for our education, healthcare and housing as well as for our environment. But by tackling climate change we can solve our other problems. The UK has the greatest potential for renewable energy in Europe. Investing in renewable energy will provide thousands of jobs as well as clean energy which will only get cheaper. Investing in a greener future will create jobs, boost the economy as well as cutting carbon. It's now up to students and young people to make the government realise that they can't run a system based on the here and now.

Progressive students will be debating the next steps in the battle to take serious action required to tackle climate change at the 'Student Fightback 2013' national conference on Saturday 12 October at the University London Union. Speakers from People and Planet, No Dash for Gas, the Young Greens and Ken Livingstone will be joining student leaders to discuss the way forward in building a fairer, more sustainable future.

Around the Web

Adapting to climate change - Policy - GOV.UK

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Owen Paterson v the science of climate change

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Letters: Climate change is hitting lives already