News & Media Opinion Pieces Climate Change Strategy and the Environmental Movement

Climate Change Strategy and the Environmental Movement

An interesting review article ‘Hijacked by Climate Change” by Richard Black on BBC News has asked “Has climate change hijacked the wider environmental agenda? If so, why? And does it matter?”

These questions are highly relevant to how we present our case to the community and to government.

It is unarguable that we were heading toward a world ecological crisis even without adding in the damage of climate change. Biodiversity is declining rapidly, as the habitats and ecosystems of forests, wetlands, coral reefs and rivers are plundered for resources or urbanisation. Pollutions, draining of aquifers, overfishing, desertification due to land over use and a burgeoning population, collectively had humanity on the road to crisis before climate change added some fuel to the fire-literally

Then why are we going to Copenhagen asking only for action on climate change? Certainly there is evidence that the debate has become climate-centric and it is notable that our own topic of human health and climate change is neglected. We recall that he UN framework Convention on Climate Change committed nations to work collectively to avoid “dangerous anthropocentric interference” in the climate system (Article 2) and to engage in “minimising adverse effects (of climate change) on the economy, on public health and on the quality of the environment”. Yet 17 years on, in preparatory submissions to the impending UNFCCC negotiations in Copenhagen this December, only 4 of 47 nations mention the words human health as a consideration.
Much work remains to be done!

Richard Black investigated the issue by questioning a number of well known contributors to the climate debate.

Mike Hulme, recent leader of the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, believes the climate issue is attractive for the modern leader.

“The characteristics of climate change are quite convenient for politicians to use and to deploy both at a popular level but also at a political level,”

At the popular level a statement has to be made to satisfy the public but it is long-term issue so the action can be proposed for some time in the future and action can be progressively delayed.

“It’s very easy to pass responsibility for failure somewhere else… and in the process of doing that, one is able to keep one’s own credibility and record, with the appearance of being much more progressive and constructive.”

And so we see, blame paced on China and India who in turn place the place blame on the West.

This analysis explains why the public anxiety of climate change has lead to its extirpation from Departments of the Environment which are left minding the threatened species, whilst the leaders pronounce on targets for 2050 or appoint senior Ministers for climate change.

Richard Black quotes from one environmental leader in the UK “If we want to talk about climate change, we can get a meeting with the prime minister. If we want to talk about biodiversity, we can’t even get a meeting with the environment secretary.”

The climate change issue deflects attention away from the politically difficult issues which could be addressed now but which are too difficult politically, chopping down our forests, developing population policies, legislating for fish quotas and taking a firm line on developments that denude biodiversity. The government pledges on biodiversity made at the Rio Earth summit in 1992 have gone the way of many ecological services and yet this is the common denominator of human life support.

The request for funds to address climate change is the prime focus on nearly every environmental organisation newsletter. Black concludes “By singing the climate tune so loudly, have environmental groups unwittingly helped to create a situation where climate change is all that politicians and the public hear? Has the media contributed? A couple of years ago I added up the number of articles we had written on the BBC News website within the preceding nine months about various issues. The scores were four for deforestation, four for desertification, 17 for biodiversity – and on climate change I stopped counting when I reached 1,000.”

So where has DEA got to on this journey? A majority of the public in Western countries believe that ‘something must be done” Governments in general have responded with words but are still at the stage of saying that the public will not tolerate the costs of x y or z and anyway what about the economy? In our discussions with elected representatives many have said that governments can only move with public support and schemes that impose costs are difficult.

Human nature being what is, it is clear to many of us that leadership that is ahead of public opinion will be the only way to address this fast moving decline in the worlds ecological services. In our briefings to our elected representatives we must place climate change in the context of all other damaging factors. Some politicians have asked us about a population policy but in a hushed voice so no-one hears!

Read the article at

David Shearman. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Doctors for the Environment Australia