Too little, too late – the politics of climate change by Colin Challen MP


 Travelling north on my way home, I am spurred to ask myself if there are many climate change sceptics in Watford for if there are they will have been cheered by the sight of snow lying on the ground: ‘and it’s only October.’ If this indeed is the first taste of a cold winter, and that is what the Met Office is predicting, then Nigel Lawson will be able to lead a demonstration of thousands to No. 10 demanding an end to the great climate change conspiracy, Ryanair will launch even more flights to obscure destinations so that the better off segments of the middle classes can have a second home away from it all and of course our dear friend Jeremy Clarkson will be revving up his four wheel fans to ever greater ejaculations of joy. Indeed as the frosts descend it will appear terribly odd to many that we are planning to spend as much as we are on climate change when there are plenty of other things crying out for cash, like ailing banks for example.

The cost of dealing with climate change certainly sends shivers down the spines of some in the House. The debate on the Climate Change Bill heard contributions from the likes of Peter ‘I have a little list’ Lilley, the former Tory cabinet minister who came to epitomise the caring, sensitive policies of Thatcher’s heyday. Now he could barely keep his cardigan on whilst denouncing the Bill, and I thought at one point a few blood vessels may have been rent. For people of Lilley’s mould, the word ‘cost’ can only mean burden, when of course it may actually mean investment. This is as much a product of partisan language as anything else – the party in government always talks of its wise investments, whereas the opposition can only ever imagine the taxpayers’ dosh being poured down the drain. But in the meantime the Conservatives have supported the proposal to spend over £50 billion on a replacement for Trident, a defence system which is so irrelevant to the defence needs of today it can only be classed a staggering con trick perpetrated by the military-industrial establishment. The only justification made for it by the government is that we cannot foretell the defence challenges of tomorrow.

Actually we can. Resource wars, regional conflict, mass migration for starters. For these challenges we need a fully resourced army (which can act as peacemakers and aid workers), not expensive ‘deterrents,’ weapons which are useless in a world of asymmetric conflict. Climate change is a threat multiplier, and that is where the real cost-as-burden lies, a thought that clearly hasn’t occurred to the desiccated calculating machines clinging to their A-level accountancy examination papers. But there’s another way of looking at the money we’ll be spending on tackling climate change – and that is to remember that all that mitigation seeks to do is to end our dependency on fossil fuels. In other words, if we can decarbonise our activities, we need not necessarily assume that it is the activity per se that is ‘bad.’ Investing in new technologies, based on renewable energy is an inevitable path in any case (peak oil and all that) so why not start today? Who are the Luddites now?