When disaster strikes, make no mistake about it: the poor and vulnerable are by far the worst hit. Five weeks ago, news headlines were dominated by the second costliest hurricane in recent years, Hurricane Sandy; claiming the lives of 253 from seven countries and preliminary economic losses of $65.6 billion (2012 USD).
It was indeed a huge tragedy and without sounding like a ‘Doomsday Prepper,’ it could be a sign of things to come. The World Bank released a report last week called ‘Turn Down the Heat’ spells out in clear terms what our world would be like 4 degrees Celsius warmer, which is what climate scientists are almost unanimously predicting what will happen by the turn of the next century without serious and urgent changes in policy.
To paint a broad picture, 4 degrees scenarios are devastating. Coastal cities will be inundated, there will be increasing risks for food production, unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics, substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high intensity hurricanes and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.
I’m interested in how this affects us, as people - in the UK, Europe and beyond.
Many of you currently experiencing the cold snap in the UK will probably think this is bunkum and a warmer world is just the ticket. However, it is not quite so simple. Before you go out to ready the huskies and don the ski gear for a venture outside, let me tell you why we I think in the UK should take note of the effects of climate change, on us the rest of the world.
I believe the biggest problem that we have in the UK is that far too many of us are not climate change sceptics, but climate change ignorers. Most of us know what’s happening; the floods, heat waves, Hurricane Sandy, but after a flash of fear, helplessness takes over and we simply tune out and turn a blind eye.
We know the science and most agree that we have come to a point where the next 100 years could see some of the biggest changes in our environment and consequently how we live our lives. But it’s not all doom and gloom. As Anne Karf points out in her recent Guardian column, ‘Martin Luther King never inspired millions by saying “I have a nightmare.”’
Can we buy billions around the world into a vision that is carries with it the suggestion that a 2100 will be uninhabitable and generally a misery for us all? Unlikely.
I believe what is needed is a shift in the narrative, moving away from the notion that climate change is a huge wrecking ball hurtling toward us at breakneck speed, with nothing that we can do to slow or halt the imminent destruction. This simply breeds widespread apathy and inaccessibility. Why should I cycle to work some days instead of taking the car everyday, or ease off on the amount of red meat that I eat for the sake of the planet?
Well… one reason that could persuade me has little to do with preventing climate change: they’re healthier.
I’m a firm believer in social justice, and using our political and social capital in the UK for good internationally. We will be affected by this, but not at all to the same extent that smaller nation states, low lying countries and nations with smaller economies will.
Yesterday I participated in an action to show support for those affected by the typhoon in the Phillipines. It was a powerful message by youth groups from every continent who stood in solidarity with the world’s poorest people, who are most at risk from the current and projected impacts of climate change.
Unfortunately, extreme events like this disaster and Sandy seem to be becoming the ‘new normal’ – but there are many things we can do both to reduce climate change itself (mitigation) and support people to help reduce its impacts (adaptation).
Ask yourself some the questions we all need to be asking of ourselves. What can you do to help? What skills do you have that would be useful? What can you do to make a difference? And when can you start?