Last week DECC, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, launched a Google Earth map that allows you to see the effects of a 4C temperature increase on the planet. So, now we can see how bad it’s going to get. It has helpful videos of Met Office climate specialists giving us weather reports from the future. This demonstration is essential because even with current plans for climate action (worldwide), we are heading for a 4C increase by 2100. At worst case scenarios if various tipping points escalate increases, it would be at a 5C to 7C increase by 2100, which potentially means a 3.5C to 4C increase by 2050. (You may have noticed my earlier posts stating that extreme scenario of 4C by 2050, which I realise now was focusing too much on the upper range forecast. But that upper range is still a very high risk. References for the latest models are given below, thanks to environmental researcher Robin Webster.)
So, this is serious. You might think then that we’re lucky to have a new Government which has crowed ‘we want to be the greenest government ever!’ Unfortunately, this week we hear that DECC must cut its already tiny funding by £85 million, that the Sustainable Development Commission will be axed and that investment in low carbon technology will end. A spokesman said “The whole of Whitehall is making savings; it’s only right that DECC plays its part in tackling the deficit.”
My eyes keep catching on that ‘only right’. It seems to me that our politics have not only lost all sight of ethics, they have lost all sight of logic. I’m also pretty distressed that Jeremy Hunt has asked the Department for Media, Culture and Sport to cuts its staff and operations by 50%. But why should this be a contest in which it’s seen as only fair that every department should make savings? Ministers are told that if they make their cuts quickly they get to sit in the star chamber to arbitrate on other cuts outside their own areas. So, it’s like a party game; knock down your own skittles then rush to the safe zone where you can point fingers at the losers. DCMS and DECC are both miniscule already (see if you can even find them on this visualisation) compared to other departments.
What do we know about the strengths of the UK economy and its potential for growth? We know that the financial sector is corrupt and that its inflated growth has come from the kind of exploitation of natural resources and people that causes starvation of millions of people and ecocide of forests and oceans. Lloyds is now telling us that future financial growth must take account of the security risks arising from environmental damage and scarcity of resources. We also know that the inflation of property values is unsustainable. The UK’s industrial production is increasingly being outsourced. What remains but two strong potential areas of growth, and both are about the UK playing a leading role in an emerging knowledge economy: Culture and Ecological Innovation, both of which need to be underpinned by technology, science research and education.
By ‘culture’ I mean enabling playful, imaginative practices in the media, in schools, workplaces and communities, not just the curating of culture in theatres or galleries. By ecological innovation I don’t just mean green energy, I mean new ways of knowing how to live on the land, how to manage sustainable communities, how to restore biodiversity, how to create products that don’t exploit or harm the planet. That kind of innovation relies on connection with cultural knowledge (what do people from diverse and past cultures know, what knowledge do we have of plants and materials that we can apply?) and creativity (how can we apply the extraordinary talents of our artists, designers and technologists to these innovations? how can everyone develop and apply these capacities?)
So, rather than withdraw funds from these two areas, the Government should be investing in them with gusto. Not just subsidising them but investing in them. It is impossible to pin down the future with certainty and we can’t hope to. We have to live with the uncertainty but at the same time we must strive as hard as we can to model the future, to look at the possible variants and to beg no questions. But moreover, we must act co-operatively and imaginatively to bring down each of these variables that are weaving such a frightening future.
Sokolov, A. P. et al. (2009). Probabilistic Forecast for Twenty-First-Century Climate Based on Uncertainties in Emissions (Without
Policy) and Climate Parameters. Journal of Climate, Volume 22, Issue 19, 5175 – 5204.)
MIT News, 19 May 2009 at:
Pope, V. (2008). The scientific evidence for early action on climate change. At: