By Campaign Agent Ben Abbs
Note: views expressed are those of the individual and not representative of TalkPolitics.
The mid-August sun glances gently off the undulating waves of the popular Playa de los Alemanes beach in Spain, as beachgoers play in the waves or lay back to read a good book. A tranquil, worriless scene. A place where many of us would rather be.
The roasting sun of Europe’s summer heatwave did not perturb the holidaymakers as they sought the comfort of the cool sea. A week prior, BBC headlines re-iterated expert predictions that Climate Change will cause heatwaves to kill 152,000 Europeans annually by 2100. These warnings probably glided off the backs of swimmers as easily as the seawater, as they re-emerged from the Mediterranean.
Who can blame them? We are barraged with warnings of intangible, cataclysmic climate change tragedies that will occur at some point in our children’s lifetimes. Scientific experts publish, and the media selects, dramatic, eye-catching predictions of doom and viewer appetite demands more; such warnings are rarely effective in driving change. We can all be forgiven for not holding our breath for the unimaginable tidal waves of Hollywood’s ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ or ‘2012’ to devastate the world.
But on Thursday the 10th of August, a concerning sign materialised that should have disturbed the holidaymakers’ bliss, showing Climate Change as an ominous reality. It should have, but it probably didn’t.
The serenity of the beach was suddenly broken, not by a sci-fi tidal wave, but by a black dingy crunching up the sand disgorging 20 to 30 migrants. After the novelty wore off, many sunbathers probably went back to relaxing. At best, there may have been some comments about the migrant crisis, but few, if any, would have drawn a link between the heat wave they were enjoying and the migrants.
Problems need to be tangible to generate a popularly mobilised solution, otherwise, they are perceived as big, complicated issues best left for politicians to resolve. The dangerous thing about Climate Change is that its complexity makes it anything but tangible; it is a subtle force that will progressively turn us against one another. A warming planet is politically and economically destabilising, decreasing our ability to predict the seasonal climates and polarising weather towards ‘precipitation extremes’. While many places will see more droughts, others will experience more flooding. The U.S. Department for Defence aptly classifies Climate Change pressures, particularly water-security, as ‘threat multipliers’ in the 2014 Quadrennial Report. In other words, Climate Change pressures will catalyse existing problems by generating conflict and economic havoc long before the tidal waves sweep us away.
While repressive dictators, and human rights abuse, among others, were crucial factors sending instability raging through North Africa and the Levant, they were not the complete picture. Syria suffered unprecedented drought between 2006 and 2010, pushing 2-3 million people into poverty and devastating the livelihood of farmers, forcing them to relocate to the cities. These unemployed, disgruntled men, became the core component of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad. In 2011, drought in China’s eastern wheat-growing province drove it to purchase vast volumes of wheat on international markets. Global wheat prices doubled. Quickly, a hungry Middle East and North Africa were convulsing in the Arab Spring; in Tunisia, Yemen, and Jordan, protesters waved baguettes in protest, while in Egypt, people were crying out for “bread, freedom, and social justice” (it rhymes in Arabic).
Amidst the complexity, a link needs to be simply drawn between Climate Change and its consequences, re-orientating the images of the migrant dingy, or other high-profile images, such as that of the drowned three-year old Syrian, Alan Kurdi, on a Turkish beach in 2015. These images, not Hollywood tidal waves, are the reality of our Climate Change future. With this understanding perhaps the holidaymakers would demand more of their politicians, or decry Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Treaty. However, until then, having expressed concern and emotion about the migrant crisis, which they feel helpless to solve, the holiday-makers are more likely to retire to the shack at the top of the beach to grab a large, juicy, consoling burger. Thereby, unwittingly they would be contributing, in one very small part, rather than resolving the problem.
For all his faults, Trump did get one philosophy correct which applies to Climate Change: the people have power. In fact, one part of the solution is on the beach-goer’s plate. Pastoral agriculture accounts for 30% to 51% of all Green-House Gas emissions, and is the leading cause of Climate Change, greater than the entire transport sector, in the opinion of the UN. A Vegan’s diet produces three bags of sugar worth of CO2 per day, a vegetarian’s only four bags, whilst a meat-rich diet produces a staggering seven bags; beef is especially environmentally detrimental. I like burgers, and I’ve met few people who would give up bacon. However, abstention will not be necessary if moderation became the norm.
Informed, tangible warnings of the dangers of Climate Change, especially when illustrated by ongoing events, are more likely to provoke societal engagement than far-off, cataclysmic omens. A realization that the individual can do something, and that power does not reside solely with politicians, will hopefully further this engagement with Climate Change. Of all places, Tesco has hit on a fundamental piece of useful philosophy: ‘Every Little Helps’. In fact, perhaps it should be taken one step further: ‘Every Little Bit Is Necessary’.
Sources and further reading:
- Extreme weather ‘could kill up to 152,000 a year’ in Europe by 2100, BBC
- Beachgoers watch migrant boat land on Spanish shore, The Guardian
- Why Water Shortages Are the Greatest Threat to Global Security, Mic
- Ranking the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries in 2040, World Resources Institute
- Quadrennial Defense Review 2014, DoD
- Earth Is Parched Where Syrian Farms Thrived, NY Times
- Is a Lack of Water to Blame for the Conflict in Syria?, Smithsonian.com
- The growing water crisis in China, Global Risk Insights
- How government failure and the free market each impact climate change, Thinkiea
- Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK, SpringerLink
Image United Nations Photo @Flickr