Considering that 71% of Britons consider the climate emergency a more pressing issue than Brexit, it would be expected that politicians would be working just as, if not more ardently to protect and stabilise the environment. However, unfortunately this is not the case.
In the last 139 years, every year has been the hottest on record, currently reaching its peak in 2019, with an average increase of 0.8°C each year. Two thirds of this warming has occurred since 1975 at roughly a rate of 0.15-0.20°c per decade. Whilst a 1-degree global temperature change may seem insignificant, the amount of heat it requires to warm up all the earth’s oceans and atmospheres is vast. A one to two degree drop in the past has been enough to plummet the earth into a little Ice Age and a five-degree drop was enough to bury a large swathe of North America under ice 20,000 years ago.
Inaction on climate change has resulted in raging forest fires and dangerous floods. Global warming has resulted in long fire seasons due to warm weather arriving early and making forests combustible for much longer stretches of time. Dry conditions from below-average rainfall in some areas naturally increases the probability and duration of a fire. Floods, such as those in Sheffield, are also becoming more frequent and dangerous due to more regular and heavier precipitation.
Forest fires have devastated the American West, ravaging the Paradise community in 2018. This was seen earlier this year when the Kincade fire destroyed more than 189 buildings and burned over 76,000 acres of land. Shockingly, 14 of the 20 largest wildfires on record have occurred over the past 15 years in California and they are burning more than twice the area today than they did in 1980, up to 10 million acres.
The consequences of political inaction would be a temperature increase of 2°c or upwards. To avoid catastrophe, the UN states must limit global warming to 1.5°c. Rising sea levels could impact 1 billion people by 2050, 4 out of 5 of these people living in Asia. Entire cities could also be wiped out, like Alexandria, Egypt, home to 8 million people or even Miami, USA. Whilst this would be disastrous enough, the UN now warns we are on course for 3°c temperature rise. These staggering statistics raise the question, why in the face of a radical problem, are politicians not taking radical action?
In the UK, the Conservative Party’s record on tackling the climate crisis has been condemned by leading scientists and former government advisors. The Conservatives have also been found to be five times more likely to vote against climate action than other party’s MPs. Boris Johnson himself has refused to take part in a TV climate debate and dismissed environmental protesters as “crusties”. Recent analysis shows the UK is on course to miss several key environmental targets, like dealing with levels of illegal air pollution as latest government data shows it still covers 83% of the country.
Other world leaders to fail to act upon the climate crisis are Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. Trump frequently pandered to climate deniers and has himself referred to global warming as a Chinese “hoax”. The American President prioritises the dying industry of coal mining in order to win over rural voters and recently began formal withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Bolsonaro himself is also a climate denier who has allowed raging fires to spread across the Amazon in order to achieve mass deforestation and the displacement of indigenous tribes.
It may seem as if the difficulty in tackling climate change is getting countries to cooperate with each other, made even harder without the cooperation or financial aid of the US, a global leader. But, considering two of the worlds historically biggest polluters, China and India, are now the biggest and third biggest leaders respectively in the electricity market, I would attribute the lack of action more towards political corruption.
Johnson has accepted a £25,000 donation from First Corporate Shipping. This is run by Mordaunt, a directory of Global Warming Policy Forum which denies the need for urgent climate action. Johnson has also gone on trips funded by the oil exporting government of Saudi Arabia. Trump received $2,325,000 from fossil fuel companies for his inauguration and Bolsonaro has faced allegations of personal corruption and has also been accused of working to secure the agriculture industry and fossil fuel companies’ wishes to deforest the Amazon.
Global cooperation of Paris Climate Accord is not enough. Part of the reason for the low, insufficient targets is the corruption of world leaders and their unwillingness to take on radical change. They refuse to make the change needed and proposed in the Green New Deal put forward by AOC. The proposal would; introduce a carbon tax or a system of tradable carbon-emission permits, create millions of family sustaining jobs in renewable energy sector and expand low emissions public transit like high-speed cross-country rail. A similar policy has been proposed by Jeremy Corbyn in the Green Industrial revolution.
Costs of repair from climate change are estimated to reach upwards of $35 billion in New York alone as they are faced with damages of human storms. What’s more, the human cost of extreme weather conditions reached 5,000 people in 2018. The question in regards to radical action is not can we afford to, but can we afford not to.