Storm clouds gathering

[This post is a syndication of my latest Ruberyvillage MattSez column]

The threat of climate change is serious, and there’s no going back.

Tony Blair has declared his two main ambitions for 2005 will be progress on the issues of Africa and climate change, which is a refreshing change from fighting in the mud with the Tories. Of these, climate change is the most urgent issue, not least because it will affect Africa like anyone else.

What is amazing is that most people really don’t care. Considering that a newspaper only has to whisper ‘GM foods’ to whip people up into a state of hysteria, it’s a little surprising. We’re very good at getting over-excited at things that have a very small chance of affecting us, but for some reason we’re not scared about climate change. Lest you forget, this will affect everyone. Even if we take steps now, a huge amount of damage has already been done, and continues to be done, daily.

All other issues pale into comparison when you think about it. Worried about immigration? Don’t worry – it’ll probably stop if Britain moves underwater. Climate change is a crisis. A proper ‘crisis’ – not that your favourite cuddly panda might go extinct some time or another – but that the human race might die out. It’s not a hypothetical future – it’s happening now. We know, we can measure it, we can see the Arctic melting in front of our very eyes.

And given that scientists are often seen as cautious beings, never wanting to sound too extreme, anything that gets them worked up in a panic should worry everyone. Having said that, so should the re-election of George “Global What?” Bush.

The answer to climate change? No one knows. There is no escape plan. Sure, there are things that would be helpful, like abandoning cars and planes overnight. Does that sound likely to you? It’s irrelevant anyway, humanity can’t go back to working the fields and living in huts like the past 200 years never happened.

I sometimes wonder if any of this really matters. After all, at least we can claim that in the short time humans have been walking the Earth, we’ve at least done some vaguely interesting things. But if you believe that humanity is just getting started, then you might be interested in keeping it going, at least so your grandchildren could live to enjoy it.

Reading comments from people on this BBC page from July 2004 (and I don’t think people’s views have changed much since), I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. “No one has actually died from global warming, this has happened before and we’ve been fine, it might even be a good thing” Oh yes, of course, because it’ll be fun lying on the sunbeds while half the world is in drought.

I’m not asking people to get hysterical, or scared, or think that there’s anything they can do. But acknowledging that we’ve got a problem would be a great start.

© 1999 – 2005. We bite; don’t mess.

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