Do we finally need to pull the communication cord on climate?

John Daniels asks if the time has come for more drastic climate solutions – and if so, what do we risk?

The recently published 6th Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stirred up quite a storm: ‘Code Red for humanity’, commented UN Secretary General António Guterres.  With the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow coming up shortly, more and more are concluding that we’re in the last chance saloon so far as averting ecological collapse is concerned, and that the time has come for drastic action.

But what would pulling the communication cord need to look like?  Some people think we’ve already had a foretaste over the last eighteen months.  Because for much of that time, populations across the world saw normal life abruptly stop due to government-imposed lockdowns.  Roads emptied, planes grounded and, for a while, the seemingly inexorable flood of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere abated.  Likewise,

“Under a ‘climate lockdown’, governments would limit private-vehicle use, ban consumption of red meat, and impose extreme energy-saving measures, while fossil-fuel companies would have to stop drilling.”

Of course, all this isn’t without its costs, and so we’d want to avoid repetitions of such states of emergency if we possibly can (vide Australia and New Zealand as I write this).  But how do we do so?

That’s the question which was posed last year by Mariana Mazzucato, Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London.  Her answer?  ‘Doing capitalism differently’, which involves:

  • a move from shareholder-driven to stakeholder-driven business;
  • a move from short-term profit to longer-term investment;
  • a risk-taking and innovative ‘entrepreneurial state’, working in close partnership with the private sector.

This all maybe sounds fine, but might it be too little, too late?  A recent piece by the BBC’s Andrew Marr suggests that perhaps it is.  There is, he writes, an impending ‘pivot from covid to climate’, in which ‘much of what we have learned from Covid-19 – about the state, authority, journalism and civil society – is directly applicable to what’s coming next.’  

What’s coming next: some have found Marr’s intervention downright sinister.  But if something along the lines of a ‘climate lockdown’ is on the cards, would the general public embrace it as they did when the virus threatened? 

Historian James Baldwin argues not, and the thrust of his argument bears repeating here: 

“The public wanted lockdown because they were terrified.  Whether or not you believe that governments deliberately terrified them, the terror was vital.  People also saw lockdown as temporary…  You can’t assume that public will have same willingness to sacrifice for a long-term threat.  Climate change is terrifying but it isn’t ‘you might die tomorrow’ terrifying.  And the measures adopted to combat it must be permanent, or at least last decades.  You won’t get public consent for deliberate and permanent lowering of living standards until large parts of the country are already on fire/under water…  If anything covid will make action on climate tougher…”

I wonder what you think.  Would your friends, neighbours, family be willing to permanently forego private transport, eating meat and foreign holidays?  Would they be willing to peg the thermostat to 15°C and instead put on a couple of extra jumpers in winter?  Would they be willing to restrict their family size to a single child?  Would you?

Or, regardless of what people want, do we need government to pull the communication cord for us? 

2 Replies to “Do we finally need to pull the communication cord on climate?”

  1. On the specifics, I am prepared to surrender the meat and flying on holiday, and have done so already. I need some improvements in public transport before we can kiss goodbye to the car entirely, but I’m no fan of driving and it’s Godspeed the day as far as I’m concerned. Pretty sure 90% of my neighbours would not agree with any of those things though.

    On the bigger question, I’m with Baldwin on this one – Covid and climate are not comparable psychological threats, and I think some people have been too quick to draw parallels and suggest a ‘climate lockdown’. It doesn’t even make sense as a phrase, since the whole point of a lockdown is to limit infection, and there is no infection component to climate.

    The virus has shown us that society can handle fairly draconian interventions for specific reasons and for a limited time – though with a growing number of dissenters. That doesn’t imply consent for radical and coercive climate action, which wouldn’t be either time bound or responding to a clear and obvious danger. That leaves no option except governments doing it without consent, and then we’re into eco-fascist territory.


  2. We should be terrified: immigration is the key: within only a few more years the pressure of climate added to the present load of conflicts around the world will make the immigration pressure destroy the peace our bits of the world still enjoy.


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