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Milborne Port Climate and Nature Action

climate emergency logoThe present coronavirus crisis and its economic and social consequences have frequently been compared to wartime. It might be instructive therefore to see what lessons the two World Wars can teach us about emerging successfully from a crisis.

In 1918-19 there had been very little planning for the post-war economy, partly because the war ended sooner than anticipated, but also because of a widespread ‘back-to-normal’ sentiment which assumed that everything could, and would, revert to its pre-war condition.

The result was a short-lived boom in the British economy as it resumed a similar pattern to pre-1914, followed within three years by a downturn which resulted in there never being less than a million unemployed until the Second World War created fresh labour shortages. Added to this was the widespread disillusion and anger as electoral promises of ‘homes fit for heroes’ were not met.

In contrast, in World War Two, planning for the post-war world began early on, for instance the Beveridge Report being published in 1942, and it was followed by decisive action to ensure that the benefits of peace were shared fairly within the nation, recognising that all had had a vital part to play in securing victory.

While the challenges we face now are different, and we all hope that this crisis will actually ‘be over before Christmas’, this contrast surely suggests that the end of the coronavirus pandemic should not simply see a return to ‘business as usual’, no matter how tempting this might seem in the short term.

Among the lessons the situation has surely taught us is that we are not somehow immune to nature – and that there are things which can matter more than the traditional money economy. In looking ahead, we need to heed the warnings from the climate scientists and use the newly-rediscovered ‘muscle’ of the state to ensure that we do not emerge from this crisis only to plunge headlong into an even greater one – the climate crisis. We must ensure that the emphasis in economic recovery is fully on creating a sustainable, long-term economy that respects nature and is not driven entirely by short-term gain, and that it benefits are shared fairly by all – our dependence on those who are currently under-valued and under-paid has been starkly illuminated.

So it is crucial that our government funds a universal basic income to give everyone dignity and security, and a green new deal to push us towards ecological sustainability and a much fairer and more equal society. The real question is this: will we use our response to the pandemic as an opportunity to innovate for the future, or to increase our grip on the past? That decision is the one that will most profoundly impact our ability to tackle climate change.

In the words of Pope Francis we “hope that this time of danger will free us from operating on automatic pilot, shake our sleepy consciences and allow a humanist and ecological conversion that puts an end to the idolatry of money and places human life and dignity at the centre. Our civilization — so competitive, so individualistic, with its frenetic rhythms of production and consumption, its extravagant luxuries, its disproportionate profits for just a few — needs to downshift, take stock, and renew itself."

The next wave coming is the economic one … We have a choice there as a nation and as a society and as a world. Do we take hold of our destiny and make sure the differences are mitigated, abolished where possible – or do we just let things happen, do we let the market rule, in which case there will be enormous suffering”.

Wondering what effect lockdown is having on greenhouse gas emissions? Professor Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and political science professor, explained 4/4/2020:

As the economic slow-down due to the coronavirus pandemic shutters industry, air pollution and carbon emissions are dropping. A lot of people have asked what this means for carbon emissions and climate change.

First, don't look to short-term monthly concentrations for evidence of a drop in human emissions. Over timescales shorter than a year, CO2 is primarily controlled by the biosphere which releases (and absorbs, which is key) ~10x more carbon than humans.

Second, the long-term upward trend in CO2 is the result of CUMULATIVE, not annual emissions: every single brick we've been putting on the pile every month since the dawn of the Industrial Era. Today, adding a brick 25% smaller for 1-2 months isn't going to make a big difference.

Third, as the pandemic passes, carbon emissions will most likely bounce right back up again, and possibly then some, as industry does its best to make up for lost productivity, income, and wages. So any slowdown is temporary at best.

So does that mean it's hopeless?! If even such extreme, draconian measures to alter human behaviour as we've seen the last few months aren't enough to impact climate change, how do we even have an ice cube's chance of fixing it long-term?! NO! In fact, exactly the opposite! ...

The reason why the pandemic isn't likely to reduce carbon emissions long-term is because those emissions weren't reduced by sustainable changes in human behaviour, by increasing efficiency, replacing fossil fuels with clean energy, and drawing carbon down into the soil. See the world’s leading resource for climate solutions Project Drawdown:

...instead, carbon emissions are currently being reduced by human behaviour changes that are not sustainable. BUT (and here's the hopeful part), if the emissions reductions HAD been achieved through true climate solutions, then the impact on climate would have been ENORMOUS.

Very roughly: estimates for reductions in China's Feb emissions range from about 15-25%. They're the world's top emitter on an annual basis (the US is number 1 cumulatively). Let's assume that globally, the pandemic leads to worldwide reductions of 10-15% for a month or two. Emission pathways to a 1.5oC future require around 40% reductions in carbon emissions by 2030. So if the changes we're seeing today were actually permanent, that would mean we'd already be 25-38% of the way there in JUST A FEW MONTHS. That's AMAZING!!!

The other positive thing this pandemic has taught us is that, when disaster stares us in the eyeballs, we ARE ready to act at a scale commensurate with the threat. With climate change, though, by the time we get to that point, it's more than likely going to be too late.

And that's why it's so important to clearly communicate the real, present, and relevant risks of climate change to combat the three challenges of psychological distance: the myths that we think it's a future issue, that only affects people far away, or issues I don't care about.

The reality is that climate impacts are here. They are now. And they matter to all of us already, because they affect everything we already care about. Read: Yeah, the Weather has been weird:

The real question is this: will we use our response to the pandemic as an opportunity to innovate for the future, or to increase our grip on the past? That decision is the one that will most profoundly impact our ability to tackle climate change.

‘Why the coronavirus outbreak is terrible news for climate change’

For a video version of this thread, see: The Pandemic’s Effects on Climate Change Special Episode This pandemic is responsible for untold suffering around the world. If anything, it’s simply reminding us how interconnected we all are,   https://www.14dd5266c70789bdc806364df4586335-gdprlock/watch?v=62IzyebP1_o

We wish everyone well.

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