What to do if you get mugged…
Hopefully “mugging” has the same meaning in English-speaking countries all around the world. If not, for the avoidance of any doubt, I mean “what to do if someone steals your money from you while you’re walking down the street…”
First let’s agree on what you don’t do: You don’t just ignore it; and you don’t stand there arguing with the person next to you about who is going to give chase. However, even if you don’t fancy your chances tackling the criminal yourself, surely you would chase them anyway and draw attention to the person making off with your money, in the hope that others will come to your aid? Failing all of that, you would report the matter to the police, in the hope that they can track down the person responsible and bring them to justice.
Well, I have news for you, in 2011 the Planet may have been mugged by Climate Change but many people seem to have failed to notice and/or take action: Take the Arab Spring for example, this was basically triggered by sky-rocketing food prices that were themselves a consequence of unprecedented drought in central Russia. Next we had the record-breaking number and intensity of tornadoes hitting the south-eastern States of the USA and, worldwide, so many flooding events one hardly knows where to begin. However, somewhere between Queensland in January and the Phillipenes in December, it surely must have become obvious to most people that our global climate has gone bananas?
If not, then check out the latest report from the NASA, which highlights the fact that 2011 was the 9th warmest year on record despite being in the middle of a La Nina event (which should have made it cooler). Helpfully, Hansen et al (2012) also point out that “Nine of the ten warmest years are in the 21st century, the only exception being 1998, which was warmed by the strongest El Nino of the past century.”
In July, it was reported in the UK’s Independent newspaper that scientists on both sides of the Atlantic were preparing to abandon their reticence to identify human activity as being the cause of increasingly-frequent extreme weather: Extreme weather link ‘can no longer be ignored’ (1 July 2011). Then, in November, the IPCC released its ‘Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation’ (SREX).
Although immediately dismissed by sceptics as saying nothing new (because we still cannot prove a causal link between human activity and any given event [i.e. conveniently ignoring that we may never be able to do this]), it should be clear to anyone who understands the meaning of the phrases “beyond reasonable doubt” and “most prudent course of action” what we should do. However, if not, the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has provided a useful summary: ‘Ten key messages of the IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events’.
So then, what was the international response to all of this? Not a lot, I am afraid: Hailed as being the last-minute success of extended deliberation and almost all-night debate, the agreement reached at the end of the UNFCCC’s talks (COP17) in Durban in December has made significant, irreversible climate change almost certain. Having been warned by everyone from Greenpeace to the International Energy Agency that time is running out, COP17 gave the UNFCCC 8 more years to argue about who is more to blame and who should blink first. But don’t take it from me, this is the view of one of India’s most prominent and successful environmental journalists, Praful Bidwai:
Online article: Durban’s Greenwash Outcome (Jan 2012); and
New book: The politics of climate change and the global crisis (Jan 2012).
If so, what should our leaders have done. Well, of course that is much more tricky. Primarily because the actions necessary challenge so many of our long-cherished assumptions about the way economics and politics work best. What everyone seems to so conveniently forget is that, leaving aside for a moment the inherent difficulty of spending your way out of a global debt crisis, investing in an environmentally-sound future would actually create and secure jobs.
In a deliberate allusion to the transformative ideas of President Franklin D Roosevelt over 80 years ago, this has been called The Green New Deal; and I would say that the time to pursue it is now: It is not a plan for a green utopia; it is merely a plan to guarantee the survival of humanity – Our current course of action is not sustainable and not survivable.
Now is no time for arguing because, we have not just been mugged, at least 20 years ago many of us were collectively abducted and held hostage by a nasty strand of neoliberalism that paints environmentalism as the enemy; and environmental concern as a zero sum game. However, the truth of the matter is that treating the environment as a vast warehouse whose goods can be used without paying for them is the real zero sum game; and the warehouse is now dangerously empty. Therefore, even if you feel you cannot embrace the principle of participatory democracy by doing something yourself (why not?), you should embrace that of representative democracy and write to those who supposedly act on your behalf (otherwise they will have no mandate to demand change).
Finally, please remember that some people on Earth – along with all non-human inhabitants and future generations of humans – do not have a vote; so please don’t waste yours.