Why Do Left-Wing Commentators Ignore Climate Change?
By Ian Sinclair
26 May 2014
Question. What do Seumas Milne, Owen Jones, Mehdi Hasan, Laurie Penny, Julie Bindel and Richard Seymour all have in common? All are, of course, prominent left-wing commentators who write for mainstream newspapers like the Guardian. And all do brilliant work drawing attention to lots of important issues. But they also have one other thing in common – all have had relatively little to say about man-made climate change.
Perhaps their relative lack of concern is because the health of our climate is not that important or particularly pressing? After all, what could be more important or pressing than issues such as war and peace, the Government’s austerity agenda, the next election, poverty, inequality, homophobia, racism or feminism?
The basic facts on climate change point to a different reality. As early as 2009 the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan’s think-tank, the Global Humanitarian Forum, highlighted how climate change was responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affecting 300 million people. And with the scientific consensus estimating the world is currently heading for a minimum temperature increase of 4°C on 1990 levels by 2100 (and perhaps even earlier), the future is looking very bleak indeed.
The World Bank summarised what this future will look like in its 2012 report ‘Turn Down The Heat: Why A 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided’. “The 4°C scenarios are devastating”, the report’s foreword explains. “The inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.” Let’s go into a couple of these areas in a little more detail. According to a 2009 Guardian report new research by climate scientists show sea levels may rise by a metre or more by 2100, affecting “ten percent of the world’s population – about 600 million people” who live in vulnerable areas. Regarding the effect of climate change on our oceans, the former making the latter more acidic, the International Programme on the State of the Ocean summarised the situation last year as follows: “This [acidification] is unprecedented in the Earth’s known history. We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure. The next mass extinction may have already begun.”
Not frightening enough for you? Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester, argues a 4°C world will likely be “incompatible with organised global community.” Three of the academic co-authors of the health chapter of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report recently wrote that “human-driven climate change poses a great threat, unprecedented in type and scale, to wellbeing, health and perhaps even to human survival.”
It gets worse. Last year the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency said the world is currently on course for not 4°C but 6°C of warming by 2100 – a figure also predicted by the Global Carbon Project, a group of 31 scientists from seven countries led by Professor Corinne Le Quéré, now the Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Climate specialist Mark Lynas, author of the award-winning book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, argues a 6°C increase by 2100 would mean “we are going to face nothing less than a global wipeout.”
With the situation as grave as this, the aforementioned journalists relative silence on the topic seems downright reckless. If you are interested in the wellbeing of those who live in the Global South, or issues such as poverty, women’s rights, migration, hunger and war then you also have to grapple with climate change. “It is climate change that speaks to me most loudly. Partly because it is so overarching”, the American nonviolent activist George Lakey told me in 2012. “If we don’t solve that one there is a whole lot else we won’t get much space to work with. We will be on such a survival level. It will be very, very tough.”
To be clear, I’m not taking the moral high ground. As a writer I recognise that I too need to focus more of my time and energy on climate change. In fact all of the Left needs to raise its game and exert more pressure on this issue. Because when the World Bank has a greater understanding about, and concern for, the dangers climate change poses to the world than many of our top left-wing commentators, something is very wrong indeed.
Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He tweets @IanJSinclair