The cheap thrill of global warming

Ed Miliband’s ‘climate map’ confirms that climate change is the only thing providing New Labour with a sense of mission.

Tim Black

Tim Black
Columnist

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You’ve probably seen the advert by now. A little girl is resting in her dad’s arms as he reads her a bedtime story. As the portentous music indicates, something is not right about this story and its rather sad illustrations. One picture shows a dog drowning as water floods the town, another shows bunny rabbits weeping upon the parched earth.

This, the father says, is because of CO2 emissions. The girl looks a bit nonplussed, as would many eight-year-olds expecting Chicken Little and getting the horror version. But all is not lost, according to the story: ‘The adults discovered that over 40 per cent of CO2 was coming from ordinary everyday things like keeping houses warm or driving cars, which meant if they made less CO2 [ominous pause] maybe they could save the land for the children’.

Not content with spending £6million on this bit of kiddie dread-spreading, last week the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) launched a Met Office-produced climate map showing the impact of a global temperature rise of four degrees Celsius between 2060 and 2100 (see the climate map here). Click here to read of flooding in the Netherlands and south eastern UK. Click here to read of the near complete disappearance of permafrost in northern Siberia. Click here to read of drought in Mediterranean basin. Don’t be fooled by its point-and-click gimmicks – because while it lacks the creepy tone of the climate advert, its purpose is similar: to scare people into supporting whatever it is the government thinks is necessary to avoid catastrophe. If that means using less energy to heat your home, or not driving your car so much, then so be it.

That the map was launched as part of the Science Museum’s latest exhibition is telling. Entitled Prove It – Everything You Needed to Know to Believe in Climate Change, and sounding like the climate-change equivalent of those Alpha courses that churches run to convince you that God exists, UK foreign secretary David Miliband seemed assured of the educational-cum-propagandistic potential of the map: ‘If government campaigns can persuade people to make changes in their own lives, become part of the campaign and be more knowledgeable about the problem, we will have served our purpose.’

But beyond the change-your-lives-or-the-planet-gets-it hectoring, the government’s increasingly intense call to reduced-energy arms meets a political need, too. It provides a fading New Labour administration with an urgent purpose, an objective, no matter how doom-infused, around which they can rally an anxious citizenry. And with international climate talks due in Copenhagen in December, there is a prime opportunity to posture as warriors in the good fight. Little wonder that energy minister Ed Miliband sounded almost proud when speaking at the climate map’s launch: ‘With less than 50 days left before agreement must be reached, the UK is going all out to persuade the world of its need to raise its ambitions so we get a deal that protects us from a four-degree-celsius world.’

The more heightened the threat, the grander the posture. This logic was also at work when prime minister Gordon Brown addressed the Major Economies Forum in London recently. Enthusiastically talking up the prospect of droughts and a rising wave of floods, he stated: ‘If we do not reach a deal at this time, let us be in no doubt: once the damage from unchecked emissions growth is done, no retrospective global agreement, in some future period, can undo that choice. So we should never allow ourselves to lose sight of the catastrophe we face if present warming trends continue.’

Despite the catastrophe-friendly content, there is a sense that when it comes to climate change, New Labour is enjoying itself. Where fighting the ‘war on terror’ lost its purpose-giving, moral-authority-providing function in Iraq, and now on the demoralising plains of Afghanistan, the good war is still there to be fought, but this time on the field of climate change. At every opportunity ministers trumpet this historic moment, and their own historic role. At the Science Museum, Ed Miliband was proclaiming Britain’s ‘historic responsibility’ to reduce carbon emissions, and, at the Major Economies forum, Gordon Brown was keen to play the world statesman: ‘In every era there are only one or two moments when nations come together and reach agreements that make history, because they change the course of history’. If we were in any doubt, that day of reckoning arrives in December in Copenhagen.

The problem with all the bluster, its catastrophism and its hope is what we, as a society, are being asked to do is so limited and limiting. It amounts, as the father (New Labour) said to his little girl (the public), to not using so much energy to heat homes or move around. This miserable vision of the low-wattage good life is presented as the national mission in which we are begged to believe. ‘To tackle the problem of climate change’, boomed Ed Miliband, ‘all of us, foreign ministries, environment ministries, treasuries, departments of defence, and all parts of government and societies, must work together to keep global temperatures to two degrees Celsius’.

There we have it. If ever a vision captured the bankruptcy of the today’s rulers it’s one based around temperature. They have given up on development, on all the gains of modernity, and on all the aspirations towards a better future; instead they just want to turn the heat down.

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

Previously on spiked

Stuart Blackman argued that climate change is not beyond questioning. Gordon Hughes suggested that rapid, drastic cuts in CO2 emissions were the wrong answer to climate change. Brendan O’Neill wondered why environmentalists demanded Martin Durkin’s film The Great Global Warming Swindle be censored because it contained contained scientific errors, but were happy to accept Al Gore’s mistakes as ‘good lies’. Elsewhere, he examined global warming’s chilling effect on free speech. Ian Murray wondered if environmentalism is the opiate of the liberals. Or read more at spiked issue Environment.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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