Thursday, 28 October 2010

Combatting climate change demands immediate action

There is a worrying indication that the need to combat climate change is becoming the latest victim of the Coalition Government's cuts agenda.
Prime Minister David Cameron has boasted that this will be the greenest government ever but the reality as opposed to the rhetoric tells a somewhat different tale. Two recent examples illustrate the point. First, the decision to provide very limited funding to the new Green Bank, to fund sustainable technology initiatives. The £1 billion provided, contrasts to the £6 billion originally suggested - a real drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds of billions spent on bailing out the banking system. The second example concerns the decision to remove caps on rail fares thereby enabling them to rise inexorably. This will have the effect of driving people back onto the roads, so increasing carbon emissions. A possible answer if the Coalition government wants to cut the transport budget with regard to rail is to reduce the amount that the private train operating companies are taking to reward their shareholders, better still take the railway fully back into public ownership. The depressing fact that such actions portray is that the penny has clearly not dropped with this government that climate change is real and the time to combat it limited. It is difficult not to think that the disproportionately large media play given to the little band of climate skeptics has done much damage in this respect. The incident concerning the East Anglia emails furore did much damage to the climate change argument. They suggested a disingenuous attitude to the subject. There seems to have been little attention drawn to the timing of this story coming as it did immediately before the UN summit on climate change in Copehagen last December. The overall effect has been to create the impression that climate change is a subject still up for debate – the contention being it may be true, it may not. This portrayal of a debate resulted in more people doubting the existence of climate change. This is a futile argument, there is no doubt about the existence of global warming. First there are the authoritative and voluminous reports of the likes of Sir Nicholas Stern for the last government and the UN climate change panel. Second, the experience of nature around us. In London, there is the example of rising water levels with the River Thames. The Thames Barrier put up in the early 1980s to stop London flooding was pulled up 10 times in its first 10 years of existence. Over the past 10 years it has been raised more than 64 times.It is high time that the Church in this country spoke out more loudly on the need to combat climate change. The leadership of the Church in England, Wales and Scotland should take a lesson from the Pope, who has not only spoken out regularly on the need to act but also moved to make the Vatican State carbon neutral. This has included fitting 2,500 solar panels to the roofs.The hierarchy in this country should act in similar vein pointing out that addressing climate change is not an either or for government. The churches and schools should also be practicing what they preach, moving far more quickly to a zero carbon existence. Carbon neutral technologies like solar panels need to be fitted to all Church buildings.Combating climate change must be the highest priority and factored into any economic decision making. As agencies like CAFOD have warned the increasing rate of climate change is having an incredible impoverishing effect throughout the world.This is another area where the Church needs to be heard. The Church in this country has not made enough of a preferential option for the poor when it comes to the cuts agenda. Standing with the poor should mean articulating the need for budgetary savings to fall far more heavily in terms of taxes on the rich rather than cuts being made to public services. There is a nagging feeling that some Church leaders seem to be colluding in this "we're all in it together" rhetoric that says everyone has to suffer. Let's not forget who caused this crisis - the bankers - so they should be paying a proportionately higher amount of the costs. This is the type of moral leadership we need from the Church, not being afraid to be unpopular but having the courage to speak out on the needs for economic, environmental and social justice.

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