The Blog

It's Time Climate Change Got Political Again

Experiments have demonstrated that young children of three or four years of age believe that covering their eyes makes them invisible to other people. As researchers explain, from the child's perspective for somebody to be perceived, experience must be shared and mutually known to be shared, as it is when two pairs of eyes meet. Perhaps this explains the near absence of any discussion of climate change in UK politics. If we don't look at the problem, maybe it will leave us alone. But we are grown ups, and we should have learnt by now you can't make problems go away by ignoring them.

Whilst on past form it is difficult to imagine the Conservatives putting climate change at the heart of government over the next five years, this is not just a party political issue. In the lead up to the election neither Conservatives, Labour or the Lib Dems felt it worth debating what is to be done about climate change. There are a number of problems with what Adam Corner at COIN has described as this 'climate silence' which has recently descended upon the public and political sphere. Firstly, the failure of politicians to speak up about climate change leads to the assumption amongst the public that climate change is not a very serious problem. The void left by this political silence can then be filled by sceptical voices, which distorts public perception of just how solid and uncontroversial the climate science projections are.

Secondly, the failure to keep climate change in the political spotlight means it is crowded out by other more immediate issues. Ian Patton notes that the majority of the world's population is more worried about the end of the month and how to pay their bills rather than the end of the world, which can seem a long way off. But as Tom Burke has shown, many environmental improvements have significant positive benefits for other areas of life, for example the reduction in NHS bills achieved by improvement in air quality.

These are all good reasons for needing to get climate change back to the top of the political agenda. But they are only the tip of the iceberg. In fact some much more profound political questions remain unasked and the failure to build the democratic frameworks needed to accommodate these debates will soon come back to haunt us. These questions include challenges over whether the public really understand and accept the risks that successful delivery of even the most ambitious climate policies commit us to, whether the policies in place to limit emissions will meet even these goals and how we are going to cope we are already committed to? The scale of the failures of climate policy are not on most people's radars. Like it or not, we can no longer close our eyes and hope our problems are going to go away. Any democracy that takes the well-being of its citizens seriously would not remain mute in the face of this crisis.