Madagascar, Androy 2018. Gripped by 5 years of unprecedented drought, a humanitarian crisis has emerged in the depths of Southern Madagascar. Local farming has been ravaged. More than a million face the risk of malnutrition. The centuries of stability for the inhabitants of Androy is over, forcing residents such as Alatsoa to flee this inhospitable, deserted land. “There is famine there, there is no water. Our future would have been very bleak if we had stayed,” said Alatsoa. The forces of nature have the power to create and destroy worlds; Madagascan life has been transformed by violent shifts in our geography. And we have only ourselves to blame.
Policymakers have finally awakened to the stark reality which scientists have for so long predicted. Arctic sea ice levels have fallen 13% per decade since 1970. ⅔ of the Great Barrier Reef has been severely damaged. And 21.5mn refugees have been created by climate change since 2008 – from North African desertification to the flooding of coastal Bangladesh. For so long it was just rhetoric; a doomsday brainchild of the academic community, forcing us to change our behaviour when nobody really understood why. But a new, darker era has dawned. Our misuse of the planet is leading Earth into a dangerous, desolate future.
But what is the UK doing about it?
As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, the origin of global warming lies on British shores. The UK Earth overshoot day was May 8th in 2017, meaning that if the world consumed energy at the ravenous rate of the British, it would take 2.87 Earths to sustainably provide the resources. Britain is not doing enough.
Some see us as net beneficiaries; no longer the land of the cold, the 2018 summer heatwave was welcomed by British sun-worshippers alongside farmers benefiting from longer growing seasons. Yet our island is not immune to the perils of global warming. A predicted tripling of global flooding would cost the world £340bn by 2030, affecting low-lying coastal and estuary regions. The Thames Barrier, the sole fortress protecting the capital from the forces of nature, can withstand only a 1-metre rise in water levels; after which we must spend billions on a replacement, or risk losing central London to our self-made destruction.
Yet policies are being implemented, symbolised by the groundbreaking 2008 Climate Change Act which outlined performance targets until 2032. This Act also leads to the creation of the CCC, the Committee on Climate Change who oversee the government’s progress on its green goals. Renewables investment and the shift away from coal have resulted in a momentous 59% decrease in electricity generation emissions since 2008 in the march towards energy decarbonisation, yet progress in other areas has plateaued.
Britain may revel in its low carbon electricity as coal continues to fuel energy in India and China, but power is the easiest sector to change – since it requires minimal changes in the behaviour of the people. As the world battles against the biggest challenge humanity have yet faced, changing the layman’s behaviour is the biggest challenge of them all. Encouraging recycling, home insulation and energy-efficient vehicles to protect farming regions in the Sahel is tough to sell to the average British worker – worlds apart, we must find incentives to encourage green behaviour for the benefit of our common humanity. The gilets jaune are symbolic of this attitude, a rampant protest borne out of an inability to see the impact of Macron’s fuel taxes past the hit to their own personal finances.
With home insulation down 95% since 2012 and tree planting rates ⅔ below target, British efforts are dangerously below the levels needed for a sustainable future. Yet hope is on the horizon. In October 2017 the government launched the Clean Growth Strategy – aiming to phase out diesel by 2040, achieve 85% of power from low-carbon sources by 2032 and support the development of green technologies. Both parties are aligned on climate policy; with May stating it is our “moral imperative” and Corbyn highlighting it as the greatest challenge facing mankind. Yet, as always seen in political spheres, words and action do not match up. Labour’s 2017 manifesto signalled a desire to transition to a green economy with hardly any clear-cut policies, and Conservative rhetoric has taken a hammering from their continued support for fracking.
But the government is not the only way. Individual efforts, brimming with ambition and a desire to save the planet, can together create a sizeable contribution. Food Intercept – a student-run organisation at Warwick University – collects leftover food from shops and markets to redistribute to the homeless in an effort to minimise food waste. With livestock contributing 14.5% to total greenhouse emissions, increasing food efficiency is integral to keeping a lid on global temperatures. Young startups are springing up across the country, that, free from the political and bureaucratic nightmares faced by government, can achieve positive change at a faster and more efficient rate.
In a world of constant political drama, from Brexit furore to Trumpian scandals and Chinese expansionism, climate change has all too often been relegated to background noise. Politicians, hungry to win their current battles, have been all too willing to delay climate policy to the next administration. No longer can this be. 2018, the year of the European heatwave, California wildfires and Puerto Rico hurricane has elevated climate change to the upper echelons of political priority. The world has begun to awaken to the barren reality we face; act now or risk an attack of natural disasters, leaving our species, the most successful in Earth’s history, fragile and vulnerable to the power of nature.
The capitalist economy borne out of the British Industrial Revolution has its roots in private trade. With it has come to satiation of our materialistic desires, producing ever more output without regard for its external impacts. This economic model cannot sustain our future. A newfound global attitude must compel the UK to create an economic system enshrined in green, sustainable principles. As the climate world order negotiated at Paris begins to disintegrate under the weight of President Trump, the UK and other countries who wish for change must keep moving forward in unity. All of our livelihoods depend on it.