Climate Change The Environment

How Woke Are We On Climate Change?

America is highly divided on the issue of climate change; but are we any better?

Mary Holyoak

Naked Politics Blogger 

In June 2017 Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord and was rewarded with global outcry. As a nation, we scoff at climate change deniers and sceptics in the US. In many people’s eyes, climate change remains the biggest and most pressing issue. Indeed, if we don’t make a more concerted effort to slow it down, scientists believe that by 2100, over 150,000 people could be dying each year from extreme weather in Europe alone. So how do we fare on this crucial issue? Are we right to be smug that we aren’t like the US and place value and effort into stopping climate change?  Or increasingly, as we are seeing in many other areas, do we find ourselves mirroring their beliefs?

Policy wise, the UK produces a bit of a mixed bag. Obviously, we have remained in the Paris Agreement. Mrs May was ‘dismayed’ with the US. We heard how she had counselled Trump, implored the President not to pull out, all the while confirming our commitment to the cause. Not even one month later however, after her ill-fated election campaign, we learn she is appointing Michael Gove to the position of Environment Secretary. Much like Trump who has climate change sceptic Steve Bannon by his side, May has placed a controversial Minister with suspect views in a crucial position. Gove was responsible for almost pulling climate change off the Geography syllabus in his time as Education Minister. Although the Department claimed this was to ‘upgrade it’ to the science syllabus (which I feel is a bit insulting to geography!) the damage was already done. When coupled with his approval of fracking, desire to tax clean energy and his opposition to making our climate targets in-line with our international role, he doesn’t look like the best choice for the ‘green’ country we purport to aspire to be.

Then came the news that an ‘alliance’ was being formed with the DUP and their unfavourable views quickly came to light. While as a party they might not have any official climate policies, enough is said here by their silence. Their manifestodidn’t mention the words ‘climate change’ once, nor even the word ‘environment’. Do these attempts to sweep climate change under the rug truly differ from President Trump? Most recently, it has emerged the words ‘climate change’ and ‘greenhouse gases’ have been added to a blacklist, to be replaced by terms like ‘weather extremes’ or ‘increase nutrient efficiency’, which frankly sounds like something my gym trainer says to me about my eating habits.

We could therefore claim that it’s only policy makers who blindly follow the US and we, the public, are not so easily taken in. However, recently the BBC created a storm when they invited Lord Nigel Lawson to speak on Radio 4. The former Energy secretary to Margaret Thatcher believes that “during this past 10 years, if anything… average world temperature has slightly declined”, a statement he later had to retract as an unscientifically founded view. The BBC defended itself by saying ‘it had a duty to inform listeners about all sides of the debate’. Let us think, however, of the crisis surrounding MMR vaccines and the link to autism put forward by Andrew Wakefield. If you were to search for scientific articles supporting this now, in big red letters across the front, they all read retracted. Because the claims are scientifically untrue. Much like Lord Lawson’s. Instead, the BBC understood there is a market in the UK for these views. This is highlighted by the fact Lawson is chair of a foundation which is ‘open minded on the contested science of global warming’. This foundation, although with few members, has attracted criticism from well-known names including former Secretary for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne, suggesting it does have influence.

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Although these issues are here, and should be noted and taken seriously, in terms of numbers, the UK is far superior to the US in terms of public belief in climate change. A Populus survey in 2014 suggested that 72% of adults in the UK were aware of the benefits of tackling climate change. This can be compared to a poll by the Pew Research Centre in 2016 which found only 33% of Americans actually believe that scientists ‘understand very well whether climate change is occurring’, suggesting there is intense debate over the problem’s existence.

The state of the environment, and the problems that it brings, is undoubtedly one of the biggest troubles facing the survival of our world. While we should be pleased that we remain more positive in our attempts to rectify it and more believing in its existence than our partner across the Atlantic, we should note the dangerous developments occurring in both public and political life that could threaten the gains we have been making and the trends we have been creating.

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