The banks get it. The kids get it. Do you get it?
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs” starts Rudyard Kipling’s poem If-. “Then perhaps it’s because you don’t understand the situation…” continues the joke.
On Monday, I met with Andy Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England. We touched on many things, including making our economy sustainable.
He agrees with his boss, Mark Carney, that the climate crisis will destroy our economy unless we face up to it. Why would two sober-minded establishment pillars make this claim?
Mark Carney speaks of a “global financial collapse”. £20tn (that’s trillion!) wiped off asset prices when the world realises we can no longer burn our oil reserves. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Literally. When the Greenland ice sheet melts, it will add 7m to sea levels. Bye-bye Netherlands, Bangladesh, Manhattan, and parts of London. The financial impacts will hit long before the sea encroaches. Our financial system is interconnected like a game of global Jenga. And as ever, ordinary people will pay. Insurance will be declined. Homes will become worthless. Pensions will default.
On Tuesday, I met with Nick Baveystock, chief exec of the Institute of Civil Engineers. He’s a sober-minded career soldier who ran the Royal Engineers’ training centre. We agreed about the shortage of British engineers. We’re working on getting kids into STEM subjects. Especially kids in less affluent schools. We need hands-on projects to engage kids. Working wind turbines, irrigated urban gardens. Learn from doing, and gain the sense of achievement of building something real. The teachers I speak to would love this – they’re sick of testing kids for the sake of it.
On Wednesday, Nature published an article. It is the most prestigious scientific publication in the world. Do yourself a favour and Google “Nature Climate Tipping Points”. If nothing else, you’ll be able to impress your friends.
The problem, says the article, is that climate change is non-linear. Once part of the Earth’s system gets thrown out of kilter, it affects everything else.
Ice melting in Greenland slows down the ocean currents. This affects West African monsoons, dries-out the Amazon, and accelerates Antarctic ice melting. If that happens, it shortens our window to prevent runaway climate change from 10 years to 8 years. The authors cite thirty such interacting tipping points.
But it won’t be the weather that will collapse civilisation. It will be migration. Even if we hit the Paris agreements, average global temperatures will rise by over 3 degrees. Every degree of rise lowers global food production between 5 to 10%. 1.817 billion people will be hungry. Wheat production in India will drop by 70%. Pakistan will become a desert. Bangladesh waterlogged.
We’ve seen Syrians so desperate they’ll risk drowning in overcrowded dinghies. Syria had a pre-war population of 21m. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan have 1.7 billion people. And two nuclear armed states.
On Thursday I met with Nigel Powell of EduCCate Global. They’re delivering the United Nations’ climate teacher accreditation in North of Tyne. We’re working out how to extend it to kids and community groups. If you’re a teacher, and want to sign up for the free course, get in touch via our website.
Thursday night saw the Channel 4 climate debate. Johnson and Farage didn’t care enough to show up. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen them in the same place together. They were empty chaired, replaced by melting blocks of ice. Satire at its sharpest.
On Friday, I walked into town with my kids and spoke at the school climate strike. Many hundreds crowded outside the Civic Centre. Fifteen to eighteen year olds spoke with impressive eloquence on the need for economic system change. The language was less technical than the Bank of England’s, but the message was the same. Without massive public investment in clean energy and public transport, we’ll crash. It’s their futures, and they know it.
For the avoidance of doubt, I support the school strikers, and I support Extinction Rebellion. If you don’t, my guess is that you haven’t understood the situation.
In Game of Thrones, Winter was coming. I’m afraid for us, it’s climate change.
This article was first published in The Journal and The Chronicle on Monday 2nd December 2019