Is the government failing us on climate change?

Is the government failing us on climate change?

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Leamington EcoFest attendees tell us their views

By David Mond, Warwickshire Climate Alliance

At the recent EcoFest in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire Climate Alliance asked passers-by to agree or disagree with the statement "The Government is failing us on climate change". The result was very clear: out of 117 people, 110 agreed, one adding``massively failing''. It’s easy to dismiss this result -- the people attending the EcoFest were a self-selected group who are interested in climate change, and so the survey does not reflect wider public opinion. That may be true, but is it really a reason for disregarding the result? It’s not unreasonable to assume that the people who are interested enough in ecology to attend the EcoFest know something about it. So perhaps their view should not be dismissed simply because it does not coincide with the view of the wider public. If it is true that 96% of the people in Warwick District who are interested in climate change believe that they, we, are being failed by our government, then probably this is something everyone should care about. At the very least, it should prompt some more questions. After all, the government is committed to reaching net zero carbon by 2050.

The problem is that meeting that commitment is extremely challenging, surely more so than anything we have had to do since the Battle of Britain. We are being asked to replace the foundation of our material civilisation, and in many cases our livelihood, in just over 25 years. As the Jungle Book has it, it is man's red fire that distinguishes us from the rest of the animals. And we have to give it up.

Now, I don’t know what the people who took part in our impromptu survey understood by the statement “Our government is failing us”. That’s another reason to view the survey as only the beginning of an enquiry, and not the end.

But for what it’s worth, here is what I think.

The first ground on which it is failing us is simply that it is not telling us the truth. It encourages us to believe that there is nothing to worry about, that everything is under control, and that there is no need for us to change our way of life in order to prevent climate breakdown. Let’s keep on flying to far off countries for our holidays and business trips; let’s keep building houses as if there was no climate emergency, with old fashioned gas central heating and no solar panels; let’s keep driving our two-and-a-half ton SUVs; let’s keep eating our roast beef.

Telling the truth on climate change isn’t easy. Unless you are Winston Churchill, it’s not a vote winner to tell people that you can only offer them toil, tears and sweat. But right now it’s surely something you have to do. In fact both major parties are failing us in this regard. Both are putting getting elected ahead of protecting us from climate breakdown.

The lack of truthfulness can be seen in the contrast between what the government says, and what every international body is telling us.

  • The United Nations says that to prevent a climate catastrophe we have to phase out fossil fuels now, and stop drilling for more oil or opening new coal mines. Our government has recently approved a plan for a new coal mine in Cumbria, and has just awarded hundreds of licenses for oil exploration in the North Sea.
  • Back in 2019, Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, called on governments to “End fossil fuel subsidies, and stop using taxpayers’ money to destroy the world”. But In 2021, UK government support for fossil fuel extraction rose by 20% to nearly £2bn, with a fifth of the money given to support new extraction and mining. And thanks in part to this generosity, Shell and BP made £32bn and £23bn in profit in 2022, while energy bills soared.
  • The Government claims it will achieve net zero carbon by 2050. Even its own advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, chaired until recently by a Conservative peer, Lord Deben, says that it is nowhere near being on course to meet this goal. A central pillar of its plans is to develop offshore wind – the cheaper alternative, onshore wind, was effectively banned by the Cameron government in 2015, by imposing un-meetable planning restrictions. But in the recent auction of licenses for new off-shore wind farms, there was not a single bidder! The reason? The government was offering a price for the electricity the new wind farms would generate that was below what it would cost to generate it. This was despite its being repeatedly warned by the prospective bidders that the price was too low and that unless it was raised they would not take part in the auction. Why did the government stymie its own efforts to develop renewable energy? Lack of commitment? Simple incompetence? We don’t know. But it’s hardly a success.

These are some of the reasons why I think the government is failing us – unless by “us” you mean “fossil fuel companies”. What do you think?

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