The world needs proper leadership to tackle 'global weirding'

Climate change is not a joke

If you are in Turkey, Greece, Croatia or Italy right now then you will already know about wildfires. If you are in the western United States or British Columbia, you may be dealing with the charred remnants of houses from similar fires after record temperatures reached 50°C.

An online California fire tracker follows the still-burning Antelope, McFarland, Dixie and Tamarack blazes. Australians saw wildfires last year. In Germany and Belgium, small towns and villages are clearing up after last month’s flash floods, which killed almost 200 people. In China a million residents had to leave their homes after floods in Henan province. You can call all this "climate change" or "global warming", although an American climate scientist once memorably told me he preferred "global weirding". He meant human environmental impacts have produced various kinds of extremely "weird" weather conditions.

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research reports that the Gulf Stream is being disrupted in ways not seen for 1600 years with “almost complete loss of stability”. Scientists believe it is caused by man-made carbon dioxide emissions, changing our climate to become hotter, wetter, in some places colder and generally less predictable.

The journal Nature reported that from 2010 through 2019, Brazil’s Amazon basin – once called “the lungs of the world” – is now an emitter of CO2 as a result of humans clearing and burning the forest. The Amazon gave off 16.6billion tonnes of CO2, while drawing down only 13.9bn tonnes.

The good news is that climate change deniers have for the most part gone quiet or found other targets for their unscientific outpourings. There is an online debate in scientific communities about how to counter with facts those who still believe climate change is a hoax, and other counter-factual conspiracies.

Despite the deniers, most of us now accept that climate change is a problem, even if the proposed solutions can seem unpalatable or make us uncomfortable. Some suggest giving up meat or dairy products, cutting down on flying, driving and other kinds of consumption, switching to electric cars, investing more in wind and solar energy.

We are now about 100 days from Cop26, when world leaders will be represented at high level climate talks hosted by the British government in Glasgow. This important conference gives leaders, especially of the biggest economies and the biggest polluters, a chance to agree on a plan which could save the planet, or what is left of it, after our extractive industries have impacted so much of our natural wealth.

In the run up I will be hosting in London discussions between concerned business leaders and environmentalists seeking practical solutions. I am cheered immensely by knowing that forward-thinking business leaders understand that their businesses can do well by doing good for the environment.

But so far, coherent British government leadership is lacking. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s climate spokesperson, Allegra Stratton, was asked for tips for saving the planet. She suggested that we should not rinse dishes before putting them in a dishwasher; that we should freeze uneaten bread and perhaps join the Green Party.

Since Ms Stratton speaks on behalf of a Conservative government, even her fellow Conservatives thought such advice was a bit odd. Then there is Britain’s climate minister Alok Sharma. He’s been outed as an inveterate globe-trotter, flying to 30 countries in seven months, despite coronavirus and despite the fact that it would take quite a lot of unwashed dinner plates to offset his carbon footprint.

Not to be outdone, Mr Johnson flew to Scotland – when there is an excellent train service available – to talk up his supposed environmental credentials. Mr Johnson praised his predecessor Margaret Thatcher, in what his aides claimed was a joke, by saying: "Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we're now moving rapidly away from coal altogether.”

As Conservative prime minister in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher defeated an extremely bitter coal miner’s strike. From roughly 200,000 British miners at that time, the industry in Britain now employs only around 10,000.

To remind British workers of the most brutal industrial dispute of our lifetimes and the enormous social cost to mining communities was not the best way to set the tone for the world’s hugely significant environmental conference.

Global warming, or weirding, is no joke. The world expects and needs leadership. It will take more than un-rinsed dinner plates and clumsy attempts at being seen as witty.

Published: August 10th 2021, 9:00 AM
Gavin Esler

Gavin Esler

Gavin Esler is a broadcaster and UK columnist for The National