Hasn’t the weather been utterly glorious this week? Well, no, actually, I think it’s been utterly terrifying.
20ºC in February – that’s nearly 70ºF in old money – Is Not Normal. It’s unnatural, wrong, and a sign that this poor old planet of ours is in serious trouble.
If it were normal, I’d be thrilled. February has always been my least favourite month, when I’ve had more than enough of endless dark, grey days and a constant gnawing damp that chills my bones. The only thing to be said for a normal February is that it’s short, and it’s when the crocuses pop up in the park.
So we’ve had a record-breaking warm winter. Which followed a record-breaking hot summer. And if your memory can manage it, wind the clock back to February last year, when the Beast from the East had us moaning about the snow and ice, and the Arctic experienced its warmest winter on record.
I know weather is not the same as climate, but c’mon. These aren’t random, or freak, extremes. Climate change isn’t any longer something that we need to worry about because it could, maybe, cause problems for our grandchildren. It’s here. Now. It’s happening.
And in case you think I’m being stupidly parochial, they have also just had Frazzling Februaries in Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Sweden. Not to mention Australia, where record-breaking summer temperatures have climbed in some places to above 50ºC (that’s a 120ºF).
Twenty of the hottest years on record have happened in the past twenty-two years. The five hottest? The last five. In the words of David Wallace-Wells, author of a new book apocalyptically titled The Uninhabitable Earth: “It is worse, much worse, than you think”.
So here’s the good news. We aren’t necessarily all going to be frazzled to death or inundated by coastal floods over the coming few decades. We know what we need to do, and we have started doing it. All we need to do now is hurry the hell up.
According to new research published this week by a team at the University of East Anglia, an analysis of whether carbon gas reduction schemes in eighteen developed economies – representing nearly thirty per cent of global emissions – have had an impact, has revealed that the answer is yes. It is measurable, and it is significant, but it is not enough.
In the countries studied, which included the US, UK, France and Germany, where emissions declined significantly between 2005 and 2015, ‘the fall in CO2 emissions was mainly due to renewable energy replacing fossil fuels and decreasing energy use.’
So, good, but not good enough. The UK’s sole Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, is certainly not impressed by this country’s record: “With this government’s huge subsidies for fossil fuels, relentless building of new roads and runways, slashing of support for clean energy and sordid love affair with the car industry, it’s incredible that overall emissions fell at all.”
In a piece I wrote last September, I quoted the UN secretary-general, António Guterres: “Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment. If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change.”
But here’s some more good news. Politicians, belatedly, are beginning to wake up. Even in the Trump-traumatised US, where the new kid on the bloc, the Democrat wunderkind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, has created waves with her proposal for what she calls a Green New Deal, which would aim over a ten-year period to generate all the country’s electricity from renewable or zero-emissions sources, upgrade every building to be more energy-efficient, and overhaul the transportation system by large-scale investment in electric vehicles and high-speed rail.
And, credit where credit is due, here, Jeremy Corbyn, in an under-reported speech last month, has promised to make averting a “climate catastrophe” a central aim of government if Labour wins power at the next election. (Yes, I know, I know...)
In a climate change debate in the Commons on Thursday, graced at one point by a mere ten MPs on the government benches (I mean, really, the future of the planet? Of course they must have lots more important things to think about), the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, former editor of The Ecologist magazine, warned: “If you look at the trends, we are not heading for that apocalyptic two-degree rise [in average global temperatures], we are heading for something that looks more like three degrees, the consequences of which we cannot possibly estimate.”
To quote Caroline Lucas again: “We are living through climate breakdown – and instead of taking urgent action, ministers carry on as if nothing has changed.”
What can we do about it? We can walk more, use the car less, buy as much food as possible that isn’t wrapped in plastic, recycle like mad, and lobby our MPs. And, given the shambolic performance of both our main political parties over the past couple of years, I reckon it’s probably time to seriously consider voting Green.