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14 Sep 2009 06:00
All the talking, all the documentaries, all the international negotiations about climate change have resulted in a net achievement of less than nothing: global emissions just keep going up.
As Pete Postlethwaite’s character says in our film The Age of Stupid: ‘We wouldn’t be the first life form to wipe itself out. But what would be unique about us is that we did it knowingly.” And there’s the crux of it.
We are the most intelligent creature yet to evolve: the first to understand how the over-stretching resources to extinction pathway works, and the first with the potential to use our big brains to jump off that pathway before it’s too late.
To maximise our chances of preventing runaway climate change, we must quickly and massively cut global emissions.
To do that, we need a binding international treaty and the last chance we have to get that within the timescale of the physics of the planet is the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen in December.
Clearly the treaty isn’t just made up on the spot; they’ve been working on it for years. The best deal on the table is that from the European Union, which calls for a 30% reduction by 2020 (compared with 1990 levels).
If this deal were to be accepted—which is a very big if, given that Japan argues for 8%, Australia for 5% and the United States for between 0% and 6%—and if the emission cuts were then carried out, which is an even bigger if, this would give us about a 50/50 chance of not hitting the dreaded 2°C.
Two degrees is where we trigger runaway climate change: two leads to three, three to four, four to five, five to six — by which time it’s about over for life on earth. In other words, our elected leaders are giving us—at best—a coin-flip chance of avoiding catastrophe. It is hard to imagine a more total failing of our political system.
Imagine if they were standing at a plane door — ‘Come on citizens, get on this plane—50/50 chance of a safe landing —” All of which means that we nonpolitician human beings who depend on the climate remaining habitable had best jump into action.
By signing up to 10:10 you will commit yourself, your school, your hospital, your church, your business, to cut 10% of your emissions next year. Which is easy. It’s at the level of changing light bulbs, turning down heating, driving a bit less and maybe sticking in some insulation.
Four of the big six energy companies in the United Kingdom have already signed up to help their customers cut their energy usage over the course of the year.
Groups from the power company E.ON to the Women’s Institute to Tottenham Hotspur football club to the Science Museum were rushing to sign up before we’d even formulated the plan. As well as being achievable for the vast majority of the population, 10% in one year is the kind of cut science tells us we need.
Once we have a sizeable chunk of the UK signed up, then the next step is to challenge the government to follow suit: to commit to reducing the whole country’s emissions by 10% in 2010. If one of the biggest historical culprits—that’s us—stepped forward and made the first move, it just might change the outcome at Copenhagen.
International negotiations have long been hamstrung by ‘It’s all China’s fault” or ‘We’re not playing if America’s not playing” and so the UK going 10:10 may break the deadlock.
Two weeks after the talks in Denmark finish—whatever the outcome—on January 1 2010 the people of Britain will start getting on with solving the problem, supported by the Energy Saving Trust, the Carbon Trust and tons of online resources.
Everyone who successfully completes their 10% cut should find themselves richer as a result of saving money on their energy bills; fitter, as a result of the walking and cycling replacing some car trips; and with more friends—the neighbours who helped walk all the kids to school.
More important, everyone who takes part will know that their efforts are part of the nationwide effort to prevent catastrophe. I was born in the early 1970s, part of the MTV generation who were told by a million advertisements that the point of our existence was to shop more.
Daunting though the task ahead may be, I feel enormously inspired and quite relieved that it turns out that we have something important to do.
The people who came before us didn’t know about climate change and the ones who come after will be powerless to stop it. So it’s down to us. Other generations came together to overturn slavery or end apartheid or win the vote for women.
There is no doubt about what we have to do. The only question that remains is whether or not we give it a go.—
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