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29 January 2007

Three cheers for the New Statesman

The Clangers and Bagpuss creator urges you all to pray that it's not too late to tackle global warmi

By Oliver Postgate

It is devoting a whole issue to publicising the likely effects of climate-change, just as they were being publicised three years ago and also almost twenty years ago (by Mrs Thatcher!).

Nobody took any notice then either. Why not? Because the basic situation is too simple and the solution is not what is called ‘politically realistic’.

What is this ‘political reality’?

Well, it certainly has nothing to do with real reality.

There are in fact many sorts of ‘reality’ about. Like minor gods they crouch for employment, waiting to be invoked to legitimate policies and projects that might otherwise be seen to be unwise or damaging. Their illegitimate offspring are called “unintended consequences” and, as we have often seen, are disowned and ignored, because the ‘reality’ lay in the intent, as originally expressed and celebrated, not in the incidental outcome, disastrous though that may have turned out to be.

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If we look around we can see ‘commercial reality’ cutting out the rain-forests to make patio furniture, ‘industrial reality’ hoovering infant fish from the ocean floor, ‘financial reality’ scraping the flesh from generosity with its golden teeth. Wherever there is a short-term advantage to be exploited or protected, there you will find its own ‘reality’, waiting to be invoked.

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Tony Blair told us about political reality in May 2005 on Channel 4 TV. He said: “ . . you’re never going to tackle global warming by cutting economic growth or your living standards, and whatever people might want us to do there, the ‘political reality’ is that it isn’t going to happen . . .”

So much for his ‘political reality’! But if we look up at the sky we will see, oblivious to human concerns, the one overall reality, whose name is simply: “How things are.” It is a vast spacecraft, a climatic weapon of untold disaster which will gradually destroy all that we recognise as life on earth.

Are the nations of the world gathering together to defeat or deflect it? Have they pooled and consolidated their defences? Not on your Nellie!

Why not?

Because that spacecraft is the sun and that has always been there. Under it we have always nursed our other ‘realities’, the important human greeds and squabbles. Things about which the sun can neither know nor care.

Global Warming

Global warming was first noticed in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, but the dangers that it had started to bring were not widely appreciated until a clear and unequivocal warning was given by Mrs Thatcher to the United Nations in November 1989.

There she gave a rousing speech in which she called for a vast international co-operative effort to reverse without delay the already damaging effects of global warming.
That was the moment of truth, the end of humanity’s innocence.

The United Nations received it with rapture and took no notice. Nor, come to that, did Mrs Thatcher, who promptly went on to foster a number of carbon-emission-rich initiatives, including the biggest road-building programme ever, for what she called “The great car economy”.

So, in defiance of her own protestations, she and her government chose to follow ‘economic reality’ and, it could be said, thereby sealed the fate of the world.

Today, eighteen years on, with the man-made greenhouse gas (atmospheric CO2) at 380 parts per million and rising, global warming has been slowly charging up the vast heat-storage block that we live on for nearly two decades, and is increasing daily.

This may be an ‘unintended consequence’ of the glorious industrial development of modern civilization, but the result has been that the white ice-caps and glaciers, which have for thousands of years served to reflect the sunlight and cool the earth, are now melting away.

As the white ice melts, the earth naturally becomes warmer and this inevitably melts more ice – and so it will go on, until there is none left.

This ‘feedback’ process, once it is under way, is self-inducing. It cannot be halted and will gradually cause the earth to become too hot to support life as we know it.
So, if life on earth is to survive, global warming must be stopped immediately and be replaced by positive global cooling. That’s all.

How can this ‘global cooling’ be done?

First: by immediately reducing, by legislation, total global CO2 emissions to, if not zero, the lowest survivable level. I suspect that everybody, every statesman, every despot, every gas-guzzler, every politician, every hopeful do-gooder, every unbiased scientist with a grasp of first-year physics actually knows that this is true and must be done, because, although it will be appallingly inconvenient, there is no other option. If this is not done, and done now, no subsequent reductions in CO2 emissions or any other well-meant ameliorations, protocols or declarations of intent, will do more than slightly delay the death of this already overheated world.

Next: as soon as humanly possible, some way must be found to bulk-filter out the surplus CO2 already in the atmosphere. Fast-growing plants are good at this, but there could be some even faster, more technical way of doing it.

Next: pray.
Pray that we haven’t already, by our years of procrastination, obfuscation and self-deception, left it too late. Pray that, one day, new ice will begin to form.