28 November 2009

Slaying dinosaurs in Copenhagen

By Trevor Phillips

Samba dancers led a large, colourful demonstration in Norwich a week ago which demanded action to prevent dangerous climate change. There is increasing public willingness to challenge the path to disaster on which our fossil fuel consumption is taking us. But attractive as it was, we cannot just samba our way to security.

The campaigners knew this of course. And tragedy in Cumbria has recently highlighted how serious climate change is. But colourful events attract attention to serious messages. And offering solutions, as the demonstrators also did, is more positive than sandwich-board doomsdaying.

The procession was one of thousands around the world in advance of the forthcoming UN climate summit in Copenhagen. Millions of people are pressing politicians to cut global emission of carbon dioxide (C02) and other 'greenhouse' gases which are heating up our planet at a dangerous pace. This could become unstoppable within very few years, not centuries. Don't take my word for it, the top scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have an agreed view on this, despite the claims of a few climate change deniers - some backed by the US oil industry. Copernicus had the same problem with earlier flat-earthers.

Copenhagen will not resolve the crisis. The US may offer only a modest, provisional target for its own CO2 reduction. Other nations may therefore reject burden sharing. Why, they ask, should I accept rationing while you consume twice or twenty times more than me? It's a fair question which our own society will soon have to ask those of our citizens who are energy guzzlers.

The UK, like all rich - though unequal - countries, must rapidly reduce use of fossil fuels: coal powered electricity, petrol, holiday flight aviation fuel. Will it be acceptable for 'market forces' and the price do the rationing? Can Mr Big have his gas guzzler and thrice yearly foreign hols while pensioners cannot afford one warm room in their house? Or will we share our limited energy in a civilised, democratic and fair way?

Even if some agreement is reached at Copenhagen, the targets for emissions reduction will be far too low. Further, tougher targets must be internationally agreed – and very soon. But Copenhagen will nevertheless be a watershed. We will soon begin to speak of that summit as we do of the historical point when the dinosaurs disappeared. The dinosaurs, recall, had inadequate brains unsuited for the complex task of collective survival and were unable to adapt to a changing environment. Sound familiar?

After Copenhagen, there will still be some human dinosaurs: Pre-Copenhagen Man will claim that business can go on as usual with unrestrained fossil fuel consumption. National and global inequality is just nature, he will say. One can already hear the shrill pubescent screams of his spokespeople that demands for more grown up behaviour are "just so unfair".

And there will be Post-Copenhagen People - who will come to terms with the end of an age of mistaken irresponsibility, accept that the world has changed and rise to the challenges: innovating, adopting new lifestyles, adapting, sharing, coping and inspiring others. We may see a kind of WW2 'Dunkirk Spirit'. Faced with a common deadly enemy we certainly need an early, radical response from brave leadership. OK, we have to create that last bit: the appeasers and dinosaurs can't lead this. In reality, the people must lead.

Many people will be on coaches from East Anglia to the national Climate Emergency demonstration in London on 5 December, demanding action in the UK after Copenhagen: the declaration of a Climate Emergency, a million new green jobs to develop renewable energy, to improve public transport and insulate properties. This could tackle unemployment, increase tax revenues, providing hope and direction and much needed social unity. We should join them - and speed up the final demise of the dinosaurs.