OK seriously now, this week’s release of a report from respected economist Nicholas Stern predicting 20% loss of the world’s wealth unless we act to reduce carbon emissions has led many to proclaim that we have entered a new era in the debate over climate change. Yeah maybe. I welcome the report, but really it should have been released years ago, when the reinsurance companies like Swiss Re raised the alarm. When the companies who insure insurance companies begin to panic, you know we are fucked.
I still see SUV’s clogging the streets of London and cheap flights roaring overhead like there’s no tomorrow. I still see pedestrians, the most carbon neutral of all travelers, being subjugated and threatened with speeding vehicles dominating our “public” spaces while the police and politicians talk a lot and do nothing. It’s quite clear that regardless of what the scientists and green campaign groups say, most individuals will not quit their planet roasting addictions unless:
1. their homes and families are immediately in danger
2. energy prices go through the roof or
3. massive, widespread popular revolt and direct action grinds aviation and vehicle use to a standstill
I think the latter will become more and more important to the Stop Climate Chaos movement as it becomes clear that governments will delay any real carbon taxes as long as possible to protect their friends and financial interests in the oil and gas industries. We may see some direct action at the London Climate Rally this Saturday. An organization called Plane Stupid recently shut down a Midlands airport runway for 4 hours using direct action. Activists have called for a day of action this coming Monday Nov. 6th, so get out there and chain yourself to a petrol pump, or occupy an Easyjet ticket counter- whatever it takes to grind the gears of this evil machine to a halt, I say oi oi.
British politicians are falling all over themselves to propose green taxes on flying and driving, but no doubt initial measures will be meagre and fail to meet targets that will limit warming to 2 degrees C that climatologists tell us is the maximum temperature change to avoid a tipping point. George Monbiot at least has some well thought policy initiatives in his weekly Guardian column, including carbon rationing, a far more equitable solution than straight green taxes.
On Monday, according to the Times, Richard Branson led an industry-wide summit on how to avoid airlines becoming the whipping boys of the environmental movement. I think it’s too late for that Dickie old boy. Your research into bio fuels and rearranging aviation’s deck chairs is only serving to draw attention to the suicidal nature of aviation expansion. The only thing that will bring flights into the new low carbon regime, is a lot LESS of them. 90% less by 2030 to be exact. And, as we know, LESS is not an option to capitalists like Richard Branson. To them, it is incomprehensible that humans might actually have to adjust their consumption to fit within the ecological limits of our planet. Just doesn’t jibe with the dream of the growth economy.
At least in the UK, it is encouraging that social norms related to transportation seem to be approaching a tipping point. There is widespread press coverage of the climate warming impacts of cars and planes, and people are aware like never before of the dangers of pushing the planet too far. It is becoming fashionable to bash fossil fuels. Celebrities like Thom Yorke, the Radiohead frontman, have come out and condemned the wasteful energy use of planes and cars, and the Guardian recently published a spread on the practicalities of giving up the jet set lifestyle because of environmental concerns.
So where does all this leave us? I think it’s terribly important at the moment that those of us living carbon- light lifestyles don’t allow popular culture, led by the media, to send the message that we are “hermits” or “luddites” or that living without a car equals certain social death.
Just like cigarette smokers cannot imagine a life without nicotine, even though such a life would be better as soon as one adapts, car drivers and the plane dependent cannot imagine life without a steady supply of fossil fuels. It is our responsibility to show that living carbon ‘neutral’ lives can save money and improve quality of life. It is our responsibility to take popular culture by the hand and show people how to ride their bicycles in traffic, how to shop locally and create local economic ties, how to hang their clothes on the line, how to go on holiday locally, and maybe- just maybe- learn to play an acoustic instrument rather than relying on the ipod all the time. God knows we’ll need good music when the wall sockets go dead. Hallelujah!