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Have we finally reached a tipping point?
Margaret Thatcher warned about climate change in 1989, Al Gore presented his “Inconvenient Truth” in 2006 and Lord Stern warned about the same time that every year we failed to act would make the price of averting the climate crisis higher and higher. President Barack Obama signed the Paris Climate Change Accord along with some 190 countries in 2015, but despite all this little has actually been done. Certainly not enough to make enough of a difference.
Until now. Have we finally reached the tipping point? Have a Swedish schoolgirl, a naturalist in his 90s and a civil disobedience campaign in the streets of London finally led people to realise that the climate is in crisis and that it affects us all?
Hello, I’m Anthony Day and this is the episode of the Sustainable Futures Report that I promised you to report on the actions of Extinction Rebellion. It’s Friday 26th April, although this episode was written on Wednesday 24th.
Last month some 700,000 people marched in London to express their dissatisfaction with Brexit. The march made some headlines, but most reports were on inside pages and TV and radio coverage soon faded away. It’s pretty much forgotten by most people.
The Extinction Rebellion action started on the Monday before Easter, and received much the same treatment in the press. It wasn’t helped by the fire at Nôtre Dame cathedral in Paris which drove most other news off the front pages. The difference was that Extinction Rebellion didn’t just take place for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. At the time of writing it’s still continuing and over 1,000 people have been arrested for civil disobedience.
One of the people protesting in London, though not arrested, is John Cossham. He’s been an environmental activist since the 1980s and won the 2008 Oxfam Carbon Footprint Competition with the lowest carbon footprint in the UK. Here’s what he told me.
Sorry, no transcript this time.
John Cossham - inveterate eco-warrior and winner of the 2008 Oxfam Carbon Footprint Competition.
The Naturalist and the Schoolgirl
Last week Sir David Attenborough presented an hour-long documentary, Climate Change - The Facts. People who had never taken part in a demonstration before turned up to support Extinction Rebellion saying that Attenborough’s message had made them take action. His documentary on the damage done to the natural world by plastic shocked public opinion. Could he now be doing the same for people’s awareness of the climate crisis?
Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old who started the school strike for the climate and went on to address the United Nations, the World Economic Forum and several governments was in London to speak at Extinction Rebellion. She went on to speak to a packed meeting at the House of Commons attended by all party leaders except the Prime Minister. She criticised the government for arguing about truancy and civil disobedience when the urgent issue is the issue of climate change. It was reported that of the people in the room Michael Gove, environment minister, had the greatest power to take action but said the least of any substance.
Have we reached the tipping point? Don’t ignore the backlash, which has hardly started. An editorial in The Sun newspaper criticised the police for failing to clear Extinction Rebellion from the streets. Some commentators called an activist seen with a smart phone a hypocrite, because smartphones contain scarce resources and involve polluting processes in manufacture. Others criticised Emma Thompson for flying in from Los Angeles - air travel is a significant source of carbon emissions - to address protestors. Not all activists are living exemplary lives, but that doesn’t invalidate the scientific arguments which tell us that the climate is in crisis.
Anecdote and abuse is the response of those who realise that they have lost the argument. Don’t underestimate the vast vested interests who will attempt to derail the climate movement at any cost. More about that and the phenomenon of denial in future weeks.
And that’s it…
I’m Anthony Day and this has been an interim episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. As the planet warms the debate appears finally to be warming up. I’ll continue to monitor the situation and report on how we can build a sustainable future. I’m away from base at the moment so there will be no Sustainable Futures Report next week but I’m aiming to be back to normal later in May.
Thanks for listening.
Until next time.