Climate Change

You Can't Handle the Truth!

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 22, 2006

The mighty George Monbiot, science columnist for The Guardian (UK), has just written a scathing article that anyone who takes climate change seriously should read.

He starts with a list of eye-popping admissions from former climate change deniers, like The Sun (UK) and The Economist, saying their recent climate change reports "could have come straight from a Greenpeace pamphlet".

Then he drops the bomb:

If the biosphere is wrecked, it will not be done by those who couldn't give a damn about it, as they now belong to a diminishing minority. It will be destroyed by nice, well-meaning, cosmopolitan people who accept the case for cutting emissions, but who won't change by one iota the way they live.

Rather than confronting the very difficult truths about climate change - that it will require radical and comprehensive changes to the way we live to make a difference on the scale needed to deal with the crisis - many groups that ought to know better are encouraging the myth that superficial lifestyle changes will be enough.

Environmentalism has always been characterised as a middle-class concern; while this has often been unfair, there is now an undeniable nexus of class politics and morally superior consumerism. People allow themselves to believe that their impact on the planet is lower than that of the great unwashed because they shop at Waitrose rather than Asda, buy Tomme de Savoie instead of processed cheese slices and take eco-safaris in the Serengeti instead of package holidays in Torremolinos. In reality, carbon emissions are closely related to income: the richer you are, the more likely you are to be wrecking the planet, however much stripped wood and hand-thrown crockery there is in your kitchen.

Monbiot is not afraid to rub our noses what he calls "the brutal truth of just how much has to change", but politicians and even climate change campaigers are compromising the evidence from scientific research to make it more palatable.

David King, the British government's chief scientist, refuses "to call for a target of less than 550 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, on the grounds that it would be 'politically unrealistic'."

Similarly, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research recently produced a report for Friends of the Earth that conflated levels of carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide equivalent (carbon dioxide plus other gases, like methane, that also contribute to climate change) to make a sloppy case for a less aggressive carbon reduction requirement.

Politics and science never mix well, but in this case, the target was set for a climate change bill they are promoting before the research behind the target was actually conducted. When the research indicated that the targets would have to be more stringent than the bill proposed, the research was changed to match the bill, not the other way around.

Monbiot sums it up this way:

So we all deceive ourselves and deceive each other about the change that needs to take place. The middle classes think they have gone green because they buy organic cotton pyjamas and handmade soaps with bits of leaf in them - though they still heat their conservatories and retain their holiday homes in Croatia. The people who should be confronting them with hard truths balk at the scale of the challenge. And the politicians won't jump until the rest of us do.

The question remains: Can we handle the truth? Or as Monbiot puts it, "how much reality can you take? Do you really want to stop climate chaos, or do you just want to feel better about yourself?

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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