ONCE again, we have come tantalisingly close to a global deal on climate change. Not in the actual sense of course, that feels as far away as it ever has. While the shredded principles of Kyoto danced in the wind, world leaders had designated the forthcoming climate summit in Copenhagen Denmark as the place where real change would be agreed. The impression that has been widely cultivated is that finally, real targets and figures would be agreed and that at last, the world might move to tackle the ever-worsening crisis.
In the last week and half, however, this fallacy has been exposed. Denmark has mobilised ministers to tell the world not to get their hopes up, as it is unlikely that any real agreement will be reached. What will be arrived at, we are told, is “political agreement”. Of course, political agreement is needed before any real progress can be made but in light of what is ultimately needed, this is a small drop in a very large ocean. Climate change is underway and many people all over the world are already suffering the consequences. To highlight this fact, the government of the Maldives held a cabinet meeting underwater last month. The islands stand only seven feet above sea level and face being totally wiped out if sea levels rise. At a press conference held while the cabinet were still in the water, the president President Mohamed Nasheed was asked what would happen if the climate talks in Copenhagen failed. His answer was simple if stark, “We are going to die”. He added, “If the Maldives cannot be saved today, we do not feel that there is much of a chance for the rest of the world”. While the Maldives are familiar to us all as the quintessential island paradise, those living there now cannot be all too pleased about being there in light of the current backtracking on climate change agreement. By their failure to reach agreement and set figures, world leaders are essentially dooming the islands to the pages of history.
Recent years have regularly brought my wife and I the news that our friends have been busy making babies. We regularly receive communications from various parts of the world informing us that “yes, another one is on the way”.
It has intrigued me to ask if the production of offspring has changed the parent’s attitude to the climate-change issue. To my enormous surprise, in many cases it has not. I am not a parent myself but I am told that it has the effect of radically altering one’s way of thinking. The child becomes the centre of your life and you strive in every way to ensure that they have a safe and happy future. Surely in this context, climate change should be top of most people’s lists? It is difficult to live a happy and fulfilling life if the planet on which you reside is in terminal decline and the very survival of the species you belong to is under threat.
Barring a massive temperature rise of five degrees in the next 50 years, which some are predicting, it is likely that most people over the age of 20 now will be dead before the worst hits. That will leave only our children to deal with the chaos. Why then are all the parents all over the world in a position to make changes to prevent the crisis not doing all in their power to do so?
We are in the happy position in developed countries of having death and destruction only in our futures. In many developing countries, people are already suffering the consequences of climate change. One billion people internationally are currently going hungry every day according to figures announced at the recent UN world summit on food security held in Rome. While climate change is not entirely responsible for this situation, the summit heard that it is playing a major role. For one-sixth of the world’s population, the effects of climate change are already a daily reality. Frustratingly for those suffering, neither they nor their governments are in a position to change anything. We are.
One of the baby-producing friends we visited on a recent trip to London is an environmental activist. He and his wife live in the most environmentally friendly way they can. They never leave an electrical item on standby, they never leave lights on unnecessarily and boil the kettle only once with exactly the amount of water needed. They worry about the world in which their son will grow up and do what they can on a personal level to avert climate change. It was slightly disheartening to think that all their good efforts were essentially being cancelled out by the rest of us. If everybody lived as they do, there might be some hope of addressing the looming crisis but only a delusional person or a dreamer would believe it will happen any time soon.
For that reason, action must be taken at a governmental and international level. When the production of greenhouse gasses and the expansion of dirty technologies costs us money, we will think twice about engaging in such activities. It now seems once again as if agreement of this kind is quite a way away. The world the current crop of children will inherit will continue to be damaged and ultimately destroyed until this situation is rectified.
I felt sorry for our friends who make the effort but they refuse to be downhearted. They will continue with their efforts where millions already have not. Personal sacrifice for the greater good when the wider population and governments engage in what is essentially opposing behaviour can break the spirit very quickly. It is also unfortunate that when the real problems begin, those whose parents made the effort will be in exactly the same boat as everybody else and it will be sailing up a very well-known creek without a paddle in sight.