Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Apocalypse now

To call the warnings contained in the latest IPCC report alarming would be a gross understatement. According to the scientists who contributed to it, environmental disaster is imminent - they estimate that we're now just 12 years away from exceeding the critical 1.5C global warming mark.

Will the report be the final wake-up call that the authors hope? Faced with such a dire prognosis, some people will probably still shrug - many because the situation seems hopeless and action seems futile, rather than because they moronically refuse to believe the science. To counter that attitude, the report has stressed that there is still time to turn things around and has proposed concrete, everyday ways in which individuals can do their part, such as cutting down on the consumption of meat and dairy products, walking and cycling more, avoiding planes and insulating homes. While in our house we're not about to go entirely vegan, we have been significantly reducing how much meat we eat - and if everyone committed to that alone, it would make a huge impact. That's the point: individual actions might seem a drop in the ocean, but the cumulative effect can potentially be enormous.

Of course, there remains a big question mark over the reaction of the political class and the corporate world. The report's title, Summary For Policymakers, gives a clear indication as to its target audience - but politicians' self-interest usually means that short-term wins are prioritised above long-term goals. Similarly, neoliberal capitalism is predicated on short-termist thinking with little regard for the future. Some of the changes required to turn things around are drastic and likely to be both politically unpopular and enormously expensive. That, presumably, is why the report underlines the economic advantages of staying beneath 1.5C (talking in a language that business will understand) - and the fact that apocalypse is now looming ever larger on the horizon might, perversely, prove to be a positive, in that what may have seemed far off in the future is increasingly something to which not even those of a short-term perspective can remain blind and ignorant.

Even if some politicians do refuse to heed the warning, though, all is not lost. As the report makes clear, elections present ordinary voters with the opportunity to club together and remove from power those who continue to ignore or indeed worsen our environmental predicament. It's an opportunity that we should all feel morally obliged to take.

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