Caroline Lucas branded inhuman for challenging government

Climate change may be the biggest threat humanity faces - but the government thinks that is insensitive for a Green MP to mention.

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We’ve all been there: that eye-widening feeling when you receive a put-down so outrageously unfair you are left momentarily speechless. Which is what Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas experienced on Wednesday when she raised the issue of climate change in the House of Commons – and was subsequently accused of lacking “humanity” by the Conservative Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan.

The House had gathered for a government statement on the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean. But, as Lucas explains in an article for the Independent, the minister was evading questions about the wider climate context.

When Lucas intervened and asked the minister to “reassure the House that we will not have to wait for a hurricane to hit the UK before we have the policies we need from this government to tackle climate breakdown,” she was met with an attack on her own moral compass. She was accused of “deeply misjudging the tone of the House” and told to “show a bit more urgent and immediate humanity”:

It is a shocking exchange to watch, and one which reduces the Conservative minister to the strategies of a schoolyard bully – and worse. It also appears a deliberate deflection from government failure to keep on track with emissions targets.  

What makes Mr Duncan's comments even worse is the fact that politicians in hurricane-struck countries don't seem to share his position. In fact, they are requesting more action on the subject. “We’re the living consequences of climate change,” the Prime Minister of Barbuda told CNN on Wednesday after the island was devastated by the storm. Something Lucas had pointed out in her Commons address.

As Lucas also recognised, this is not a question of only discussing either emergency aid or the impact of climate change. It is a question of needing to address both.

Sadly our government minister appears more interested in point-scoring than problem-solving. In doing so, he is sharing a stage with a highly dubious crowd. For instance US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said on Thursday that focusing on the cause and effect of the storm is “misplaced”. Unfortunately, Pruitt has also denied the basic science that shows carbon dioxide is a primary cause of global warming.

Lucas has written of how she was shocked by the minister’s response, but also of how she “shouldn’t have been”. After all, shutting down debate on climate change is much easier than facing up to culpability for the disasters it helps create. 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.