The actress and climate activist Emma Thompson got a bit of flack last week for flying from the US to join the Extinction Rebellion climate change protests. Whilst there are many arguments that could be had around this, I mention it as for me it throws the issues into sharp focus.
Just in case you missed it, Extinction Rebellion are using direct non-violent resistance to demand that the UK Government introduce laws to bring UK greenhouse gas emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2025. By implication, ER are placing the blame for climate change inaction firmly at the UK Government’s door.
There is no doubt that the current government has done much to limit and reverse the steady transition to a low carbon economy in recent years with policies that have – among others – destroyed the domestic solar industry, made it impossible to develop onshore wind, cut investment in new clean technology and promoted new fossil fuel infrastructure. But is it fair to lay all the blame for lack of action on climate change at Government’s door?
Carbon Neutral in five years?
One of the key demands of Extinction Rebellion is that the UK Government passes laws to make the UK ‘net carbon neutral’ in just five years. As a one-time government policymaker, I find this an interesting proposition. Whilst the timescales and the aim are probably right in climate terms, I think it is simply impossible to implement. This view is backed up by Carbon Zero Britain amongst others, whose seminal reports have influenced much of the policy thinking in this field for decades. My concern is that achieving net carbon neutrality within these timescales would result in government policies guaranteed to cause widespread hardship and rioting amongst the general population. No democratic government in the world would dream of implementing such restraints on individual freedoms, especially not on its core voters.
What this effectively means then is that Emma Thompson got on a plane to go to a demonstration to get the Government to implement laws to stop her getting on planes.
This is, of course, cognitive dissonance of the highest order. I’m not picking on Emma Thompson here, by the way, there is no doubt that celebrity endorsement of climate action is vital. It’s just the sort of thing that makes me chuckle. We are all prone to cognitive dissonance, in our condition of being human. And this is one reason why I think it is important to re-state where we are with the whole climate change thing. Due to the decades of inaction and misinformation from industry, every man, woman and child on the planet now has to have a footprint of three tonnes (or less) of greenhouse gas a year if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting the damage and reverse the losses. That three tonnes is, somewhat ironically, nearly the same as a one way flight from LA to London.
If we want to have a decent chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change then we all need to have a three tonne carbon footprint by 2030. This requires lifestyle changes for most of us, but these are beneficial in many ways – especially financially.