THE BLOG

It Will Only Be a Happy New Year If the Money Drowns Before We Do

30/12/2015 10:25 GMT | Updated 29/12/2016 10:12 GMT

It's very hard to wish you all a happy new year when so many are experiencing hardship. Whether you are trying to get muddy water out of what used to be your home, digging your children out of the rubble of an air strike in Syria, fighting forest fires in drought ridden Spain, or contemplating the failed COP 21 agreement, I am thinking of you.

The climate has changed, but people haven't. The anguish of the inhabitants of low lying lands has not made as much as a dent in the profit driven consumerist society we all help to feed. In Paris the agreement was marked by what it did not include. Missing was action on compensation for poor countries unable to invest in adjusting to low carbon technologies, missing was any measure at all to clarify the status of climate refugees, missing was any attempt to make fine words legally binding.

Nearer home we see all to starkly the effects of increasingly extreme weather patterns. Floods are but part of it. A warm winter has confused the plants and wildlife, who are suffering a disconnect between available food and hibernation patterns. With so much of our wildlife under stress, endangered, and marginalised, we forget that we are just another animal whose habitat is under threat.

Erosion of coastal landscapes put human communities under threat. Changing weather patterns put our food supplies under threat. But you cannot blame the birds and the bees, the hedgehogs and the oak trees for what is happening. You can however step back and work out why.

The reckless government-driven priority to burn every last drop of oil and gas in the land is but one obvious cause. The lack of forethought in planting upland trees and soak crops to reduce flooding is another. I can list building on flood plains, the spread of impermeable concrete, monoculture crops, the seemingly irrepressible farming of cattle, deforestation, air travel, and many more contributory factors, but the relentless consumerism of which we all are guilty is part of the key.

Buying stuff we do not really need is fuelling climate change too. Most of our shopping list comes from somewhere else. Our clothing, our food, our cars and our toys are often made in poor countries in near- slave conditions. The UK offshores much of the pollution of which we should rightly take ownership, yet instead we look in bemusement at the choking smog in Beijing, not understanding that this is in effect our own pollution, caused through making the things we buy. Made in China.

It has not stopped raining for weeks. More and more spending on flood defences will not only change that river view into a concrete wall, it will not solve the problem. Re foresting uplands will. The roots of trees channel rain water deep into the ground, preventing erosion and maintaining the integrity of the soil. Trees are the balance we need to put back into our lives, and if we have to spend money on anything it should be the prevention of floods, not the desperate channelling of the waters. Subsidies paid to farmers to clear land for grazing, would be much more productively spent on re foresting our hills.

We are in this mess because of bad government and bad management. In Syria poor land management led to drought and food shortages, which in turned fuelled civil unrest. In a world where there is enough to meet the needs for everyone, where careful planning and sensitive land management would have prevented much of the disasters we see today, we replace the need for intelligence with the need for money. Blood is poured onto blood, and humanity is stifled under the pressure for profit.

With increasing urgency we need to re-evaluate exactly the harm we are doing, and start - however belatedly - to backtrack on selfish desires, and to put the needs of people and planet at the top of the list. Stabilizing the climate to the much vaunted 'below 2 degrees' warming requires zero emissions, and now. The science has been sure for more than 20 years, yet government action has been to deal with the effects of global warming, and not the causes. It's supposed to be cheaper that way. If you are one of the unfortunate ones being flooded right now, you are collateral damage.

It will only be a happy new year if the money drowns before we do.