Will Hutton writes: A month’s rain fell in a day last week in parts of Britain. There were 140 flood warnings in the north of England, rain forcing the evacuation of Croston and Darwen in Lancashire; elsewhere, it washed out the Isle of Wight festival. Indeed, rainfall over the last three months has broken new records – following two years in which less rain had fallen than at any time since the 1920s.
This is part of a wider pattern. It is not just that world temperatures are on average steadily rising, the weather everywhere is becoming more extreme. Eleven of the last 12 years have been the hottest on record, and the growing volatility in our weather is linked to global warming. As the earth warms, the relationships between ocean currents, the ice caps, atmospheric pressure and the jet stream become more turbulent, and the weather turns more unpredictable.
Twenty years ago these trends, already visible but less marked, prompted the first earth summit in Rio. The second one closed on Friday night with a political declaration as long as it was vapid. There were plenty of warm words and reaffirmations of intent – but nothing that might address the intense pressure on the natural environment.
There was, for example, no deterrent to the burning of fossil fuels or incentive to make renewable ones more economically attractive. Targets for sustainable development? Forget them. And so it went on — a non-event that hardly got reported.
There was the usual cast of suspects. China and India were determined that action on carbon emissions must be undertaken by the west and not by them, so creating political deadlock. American oil, car and airline companies lobby intensely to stop any tax being levied on oil and gas, while global banks lobby no less furiously against a financial transactions tax whose proceeds might be used to alleviate the impact of climate change on those countries and regions most badly affected – usually the very poorest.
Climate change is not just about life on earth tomorrow: it is about justice today. But lobbying and political intransigence are much easier to achieve when there is no intellectual consensus – and one of the dramatic changes since 1992 is the worldwide growth of climate change scepticism. [Continue reading…]