Climate Change Lip Service

Here we go again! Another climate change conference and already the delegates are squabbling.  

We’ve had Earth Summit in Rio (1992), the Kyoto Protocol agreement (1997), the Bali Climate Change Conference (2007), the Poznan Climate Change Conference (2008), and now it’s the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. A conference at which delegates most people haven’t heard of discuss issues most people don’t seem to care about.

But these people will decide the future of man’s residence on the planet.

As each new summit and agreement is passed there is very little evidence of change. All talk, very little action. It’s as though the diplomats have signed up to Monty Python’s ‘The People’s Front of Judea’.

And as the procrastination continues it is clear that governments, media, business, and individuals still display a languid attitude to nature’s dramatic change. They may articulate their environmental concern but it all seems mere lip service.   

GOVERNMENTS claim concern but ultimately make agreements based on economic benefits. While we are bemused or, worse, disinterested in emission percentages and off-setting figures there is devious financial scheming at hand. Government officials demand “what’s in it for us?” under the spurious banner of climate anxiety. For example there is the Clean Development Mechanism, a scheme in which developed nations are allowed to off-set their own carbon emissions by investing in emission cutting projects in other countries. What this really means is that countries such as Britain and the US can continue to burn carbon emitting fuels because they have ‘invested’ in overseas carbon-alternative development. Developments in which they will no doubt be reaping further financial rewards. 

Here comes one of those figures: Instead of reducing carbon emissions, as part of the Kyoto agreement, Britain has increased it by 13 per cent.

A report this week told how James Hansen, a leading climate change scientist, wanted the Copenhagen Conference to fail. Why? Mr Hansen sees how corruptible the world’s carbon trading schemes are – and how much more so they could become.

And still, as Britain joins the national delegates in Copenhagan, our own government are streaming ahead with projects such as a third runway at Heathrow Airport in order to accommodate a vast number of extra flights. This when we should be discouraging air travel.

Governments are paying mere lip service to environmental concern.

THE MEDIA claim concern but they take on the persona of some abstract entity. There is an eerie irony in newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent running stories purportedly concerned about climate change when these very publications display adverts for cheap air flights. I wrote to The Independent two years ago regarding their spurious concern for the environment and, what they termed “the hot potato that is ‘Climate Change’”. Their shock-inducing headline (3 October 2007) read RECORD TEMPERATURES IN ARCTIC HEATWAVE 22 degrees C. However, this was immediately undermined by an advertisement spread across two pages for cheap air flights! A few pages later – and this was a shocking piece of editorial –  another advertisement for an American air company and a British airport sat opposite an advert for Christian Aid, informing us of the suffering of millions across the world due to… get this… Climate Change!

Where was The Independent‘s sense? Where was The Independent‘s genuine concern? Their excuse? “in effect, we’d go bust without this advertising.” Surely there are non-carbon emitting businesses keen to advertise.

Just this week The Guardian and The Independent are still freely displaying adverts for no-thrills airline companies in the same copy as features and comments that purport to be concerned about our climate.

These newspapers (and they are not alone) are happy to receive their revenue from advertising that encourage us to fly, in an age when such travel should be openly discouraged. There is a sense of hopelessness when national newspapers, speciously claiming to care for the environment, promote such irresponsible habits. 

BUSINESS claims concern but are a major offender of energy waste. A stroll through the city at night is a warning beacon of their neglect. The extraordinary display of shop window lighting is astounding. Businesses are loathe to give up this practice. Some are so brightly lit you are urged to ask as you pass by “are they open?” Is it a security measure or simply the opportunity to continue displaying their goods throughout the night? Take a brief moment to imagine how much energy is wasted as every shop in every town in every country every night leaves their lights on.

This week the Evening Standard (10 Dec) reported how high street shops, in a concerted effort to attract seasonal customers, are turning their heating up some 5 degrees higher than necessary – whilst leaving their doors wide open.

There remain spurious claims by businesses that they are doing their bit for the cause.

Back in 2007 Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy announced that Britain’s most successful supermarket chain is giving £25m to Manchester University to fund an Institute of Sustainable Consumption. This is an example of disingenuous philanthropy, covered financially by declaring it a tax ‘right- off’. Two years later, as 2009 draws to a close, the shelves at Tesco are still littered with plastic packaging. The fridge departments are still open shelves, sucking up unmentionable power – walk by them in a July summer and feel the freeze of a January winter; walk by them and feel the overwhelming ‘chilling’ realisation that big business is stabbing the environmentalists in the back. Tesco is a company whose aim is domination of the retail market. The notion of restraining consumption is deceitful. Greed is at the heart of it all: please the shareholders; live for today and worry not about the consequences.

Not so long ago Marks & Spencer similarly claimed to be environmentally conscious with their plan that deliveries shall arrive in articulated trailers which carry 16 per cent more and use 10 per cent less fuel. Furthermore, they were calling on customers to take back any unwanted plastic hangers to their stores to be re-cycled. Admirable one could say. And, yes, it was a start. But what about M&S’s similarly open-shelved fridges? What about the array of over-packaged products? What about the plethora of plastic bags freely offered for sandwich lunches that are already packaged and will no doubt be opened up and disposed of minutes later?

I cannot help but believe that supermarket chiefs use the ‘green’ issue for their price wars. Chief executive of Asda, Andy Bond, had “insisted that grocery prices did not have to rise as a result of supermarkets adopting more environmentally friendly procedures”. This is merely a rebuttal to Sir Terry Leahy at Tesco insisting that to become environmentally aware would mean higher food prices. Going green is merely seen as a publicity tool with Bond reported to have said, “you won’t hear me in the media saying let’s raise prices.” No, but he will use the media.

Big business sees the profit to be made in appearing to be environmentally conscious. They want to be seen doing their bit. Yet, behind the scenes there is very little that changes. The company bosses will still travel across the country in private jets; they will still charter a flight to fly across the Atlantic for a free short break under the guise of a company meeting – a one hour meeting that could have achieved its purpose accommodated by internet video-conferencing. Greed comes first.

Perhaps, in their defence, the likes of Tesco and M&S are merely serving and profiting from the demand.

So are we individuals to blame?

To be continued…