Most of us will have seen the film ‘Don’t Look Up’ about an asteroid threatening life on Earth and our reaction to it. Years ago, a film studio would probably have rejected the script as ridiculously far-fetched – now it is seen as perfectly credible, even as a fearsome, well-stated truth. And here we are, in fact, with a rapidly forming ‘Don’t Look Up’ movement of climate change deniers and climate action delayers seeking to build a political base.
It had to happen, of course, we all sagely say, nodding our heads wisely. The backlash against net zero. The backlash against relevant action. The backlash against science itself. The charge towards destruction is being led by the wilfully ignorant, the scientifically illiterate, the deliberately obtuse, and a posse of politically motivated short-termers. Some big names are doing this, claiming that not digging new coal and drilling for new oil and gas will be economically illiterate, whereas science has shown beyond a doubt that digging new coal and drilling for new oil and gas will be scientifically illiterate.
As we all know, science trumps economics in the end, and always will.
‘Politics’ is developing a pronounced wobble. What ought to be a serious debate based upon known facts and real understandings is being deliberately turned into a post-truth, say-anything, political knock-about and used as a culture war wedge for short-term political advantage. It’s a shameful degradation of democratic ideals, but happening.
What are we to do? Our first task is to ‘firm up’. To remind ourselves that facts are facts and hold firm to that. In a world where ‘alternative facts’ are spun all around us, we must remember that real facts are, in a word, real. Mountains of scientific evidence, all serious interpreters of it, and all authorities on it agree that climate change is very real indeed. It’s with us here and now, as we can all see. It’s man made and caused by greenhouse gases associated with fossil fuels and by methane itself. It’s lethally dangerous to civilisation and is likely to collapse it altogether in the lifetimes of people already born. Continuing with fossil fuel business as usual will be ruinously expensive at best, lethal to our way of life at worst. All serious opinion agrees with all of that. It’s a done deal. Real scientific consensus.
However, all serious opinion also agrees that we could take steps to transition to a renewable future and at least ameliorate the dangers. It’s doable. We already have, or would rapidly invent, the technologies to do this. It’s technically possible, and economically feasible. We can easily afford it – all informed opinion is that we’d be facing a cost of around 1% of GDP and we spend this kind of money regularly (we spent more, for example, on Covid).
Not only can we afford to transition, we’d be better off if we did. It’s been described, by Mark Carney, ex-governor of the Bank of England no less, as “perhaps the greatest economic opportunity of our lifetime”. At the UN in New York, Boris Johnson declared that ‘going green’ is “easy, lucrative and right!” In other words, if we made the transition to a renewable future, we’d be fine. The economy would be large and stable and there’d be a plethora of solid sustainable jobs.
We write airily about ‘scientific evidence’, ‘informed opinion’ and ‘authorities’. Who are our sources? The science is collected and considered by such bodies as the IPCC (the International Panel on Climate Change), the CCC (our own parliamentary Committee on Climate Change), the IEA (the International Energy Agency) and the Grantham Institute. All these bodies issue reports and commentaries. Two important additional reports from this country are the Stern Report (2006) and the Skidmore Report (2023). They all sing from the same hymn sheet as we do. This is not accidental.
Returning to that prescient film ‘Don’t Look Up’: in the story, facts slide off people like water from the proverbial duck’s back. Many people accept the clearly visible truth (and protest), others simply don’t (and counter-protest). Nobody seems to know why deniers deny, or what to do to convince them of the truth. ‘Politics’ divides, wobbles and fails as the asteroid barrels towards Earth. Disaster, inevitably, strikes. Everybody, except Meryl Streep (enjoying herself as a very blonde President of the United States in vivid orange makeup) and a very few others escaping with her, dies. Then, after the credits roll, she does too.
So there’s a lot to play for, and there may still be a little time. The backlash is ignorant and unprincipled, but seems to have deep pockets, imaginative speechwriters and a capacity for repeating blatant disinformation without a blush. Those of us who prefer reality, and can still tell the difference between right and wrong, clearly have our work cut out. It’s imperative work, though, and we must do it urgently and with a full heart and mind.
Most of the important decisions need to be taken at governmental level, of course, and we seem very small cogs by comparison. We’re numerous, though. We’re all constituents. There are a lot of us, and we all have a voice. It’s time to use it as loudly as we can and as frequently as possible. We must all tell our representative – our MP in Witney is Robert Courts – what we think. We must do this clearly and often. Our situation is dire and desperate but it may not be irretrievable. The science is clear, and the science is right. It’s an MP’s absolute duty to recognise and understand this. It’s an MP’s absolute duty to find and recognise the truth, and then to act on it. It’s our duty, now, to write and speak to our MP whenever we can – to tell him our terrors and our understandings and urge more and better from our government, starting now, as a matter of the urgency it actually is.
Every one of us is a constituent, after all, and the asteroid gets closer every day.
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