The war to end all wars

The climate change threat needs drastic action. Only a cross-party approach can deliver it.

  • Rosie Boycott
  • The Guardian,
  • Tuesday May 20 2008
  • Article history

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This article appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday May 20 2008 on p28 of the Comment & debate section. It was last updated at 12:16 on May 20 2008.

How do you define a war? There is the disastrous one that Britain is waging in Iraq, involving tanks and guns and the lives of our young men and women. There is the kind the government claims it is waging variously against poverty, terror, and obesity. But the greatest threat to us all, global warming – a threat far greater than any airborne disease or foreign dictator – has yet to be elevated to war status. Day by day, before our eyes, the planet is deteriorating: ice caps are melting, weather systems shifting, and the poorest are finding themselves facing life-threatening water shortages. Our wildlife is suffering, species are being lost before our children even have a chance to witness them in all their beauty.

Britain, with 174 other countries, signed up to the Kyoto protocol, but while the government has made great political play of the fact that greenhouse gas emissions have decreased over the past decade, actual CO2 emissions have gone up. The only cuts that have been made have come from small, one-off technical fixes of things like landfill gas methane emissions. Labour might have great plans for cutting climate-changing gases, but most of its policies, from motorway widening to new runways, point in the opposite direction, and are actually worsening the situation.

As a group, some concerned mothers – myself among them- are coming together with their children this week because we want to leave our planet in much the same way as it was when we were born: rich, varied and able to support and feed us all. All across Britain, families are recycling waste, cutting back car use and giving up using plastic bags. But we know we are long past the time for small-time individual action – we need to direct a transition to a low-carbon economy. The government still seems to be terrified of motorists, frequent flyers and second home-owners, and is far too timid to take any measures that begin to address the scale of the problem. The targets in the climate-change bill are a good start, but there is no policy framework to actually achieve them – it is no good politicians saying each year, “Sorry, we failed”, as the world fries. The climate crisis must be our pre-eminent policy priority.

As the environmentalist Mark Lynas says: “We must peak global emissions by 2015 if we are to keep temperatures from rising beyond two degrees – after which point total climate catastrophe beckons, and that means international policy must be finalised by Copenhagen in 2009. The British government will have no political capital to demand cuts in countries like China when it is overseeing more coal-fired power stations and rising CO2 emissions at home.”

Last week MPs tabled a motion calling for immediate cross-party action on climate change. Their move comes as we launch a new campaign aimed at forcing the government to take the lead on tackling global warming. For many of those involved, it will be the first time they have taken political action. We call ourselves We Can (Can standing for Climate Action Now), and tonight we’ll be holding a candle-lit protest outside the House of Commons. During the evening, the children will deliver a letter to No 10 for Gordon Brown: it’s their future at stake here, not ours.

Climate change is too vital an issue to sacrifice to political infighting and cowardice. Clearly, it would be political suicide for any one party to introduce the changes needed, which is why a cross-party coalition should be formed (as during the second world war) to guide and direct both government planning and industry direction.

If his budget speech to the Commons is to be believed, Alistair Darling has made up his mind: climate change is the greatest challenge facing us all, and “there will be catastrophic economic and social consequences if we fail to act”. In response to this, with great determination and steely efficiency, the chancellor has utterly failed to act.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941, the US threw its might behind the war machine, transforming its industries overnight. The bounties of my entire life as a postwar baby have come as a direct result of that giant political will bending towards the common good. Now my daughter’s generation demands the same drastic intervention if they are to enjoy the same kind of future.

It can be done and we know the enemy. But where, on our increasingly fragile earth, is the leadership?

· Rosie Boycott is a writer and broadcaster wecan.uk.com

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