Tedium brings great vulnerability; a wavering, easily-broken concentration means important decisions can be made or, worse, neglected as we daydream. Were we not, like one of WWII’s cannon-fodder penal divisions, in the maw of the Brexit monster we would have, as much of Europe has, moved on to more uplifting things.
However, our relationship with Britain is central to our economic wellbeing and everything that flows from it. Disengagement is not an option. Dependent as we are on Britain we are utterly dependent on the wellbeing of this planet yet there is a growing air of tedium, of not-our-problem denial around climate change.
That tedium will not be shared by those in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi picking through Cyclone Idai’s carnage. Mozambique was hit hard and at least 400 people died. Thousands more may have been swept to sea but their bodies may never be recovered. Drinking water and food are scarce, cholera has broken out. Climate change showed itself as a threatening presence.
That reality may have moved Mary Robinson to be so very emphatic in London yesterday. Accepting the Kew International Medal for her “integral work on climate justice” she said climate change denial is not just ignorant, but “malign and evil”. “Climate change undermines... human rights — from the right to life, to food, to shelter and to health. It is an injustice that the people who have contributed least to... suffer the worst impacts,” she charged, linking our abject failure to cut emissions with the hardships faced by societies far less able to deal with the crisis.
The complexity of the crisis is shown by the International Energy Agency. It shows that greenhouse gas emissions from energy production rose strongly again last year. New, Asian coal-fired power plants account for a large proportion. Energy demand grew at its fastest pace this decade, with a 2.3% increase globally, exacerbating fossil fuel use. Frighteningly, coal burning in power stations was up by nearly a third. America’s gas consumption soared by 10%, the equivalent of Britain’s entire gas consumption in a year.
These figures push an effective carbon tax well beyond the realm of Punch ’n’ Judy politics, they make it a survival issue. Despite the simplicity of that equation, battle lines have been drawn around increased carbon taxes. Already, and despite any firm details, Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and the Irish Farmers’ Association have opposed increases. That opposition might not fit Robinson’s “malign and evil” categorisation but it comes too close for comfort. Hopefully, the Government will be more influenced by recent student protests than by this dangerous, outdated wishful thinking.
In the not so long ago grandfathers were often asked what they did in the war — the few who survived the Strafbataillons must have had interesting stories to tell. Today’s decision-makers may face a different question: “What did you, Granddad, do about climate change?” There may still be time, but not much, to put ourselves in a position to answer that question with some degree of pride but our current path suggests we may have to shamefully change the subject.
Rome is burning and we are opening the fiddle case...