Climate change in 25 minutes

I took some time out of my brief in-between-jobs holiday to speak to some students from Alleyn’s School in East Dulwich. The Geography Society invited me to talk about climate change and the Green Party. What do you say in 25 minutes to young people who are  amongst the highest consumers in Southwark, but also potentially dedicated citizens who can do a lot to tackle the problem?

I think my talk got a bit confused, but perhaps that’s OK because I really wanted to help them understand just how complicated the whole topic is. Beware the doomsayers who claim there’s nothing we can do, but also beware optimists who offer the solution in the form of ten easy steps!

On reflection, these would be my two main messages to young people.

First, recognise that climate change fundamentally changes the way we think about politics and our personal lives. Just as we accept basic ethical constraints, so we must accept ecological constraints. If we accept that we can’t kill someone for fun, we must also accept that we cannot put more than a safe level of greenhouse gases into the astmosphere. Whilst Labour made great strides in bowing to pressure and introducing the revolutionary Climate Change Act, they share with the Tories and Lib Dems a reluctance to acknowledge that economic growth, poverty alleviation and other basic goals cannot override this constraint. So long as they seek to expand Heathrow airport and offer half-hearted tokens their approach will be mired by contradiction and denial; so long as they talk of terrorism and the recession as higher political priorities than climate change, they show they simply don’t understand the gravity and urgency of climate change.

Second, when we ask “what can we do?” it’s important to understand that this very complicated problem has a very complicated mix of solutions. We must individually do our bit, consuming less and better, but let’s not worry about being angelic! Sign up to 10:10 because it asks individuals, organisations and governments to join together. Perhaps the best thing we can do is to ask of everyone else: what are you doing? Ask local politicians, business owners, schools, family and friends.