Look At Life: Climate Change

3rd October 2014

The (a)Politics Of Climate Change

Clare Finney

Let’s be clear about one thing: the People’s Climate March last month was spectacular. Spirits were high, voices loud and the costumes alone a feat of human endeavour. At certain points the crowd was almost indistinguishable from a scene in The Lion King. Spectators looked on with joy and wonder at the menagerie of animals that stomped and flapped past with banners. Hundreds joined in the Pied Piper’s vision of a world united in the fight for survival. Yet there was one prominent feature of this pageant that I could neither endorse, nor entirely ignore.

‘Tell Cameron why you’re here today!’ ‘Winter is coming, Cameron!’ ‘David Cameron, is this your idea of a clean planet?’ These are the polite examples of the rallying calls around me; most were considerably less so. For those who didn’t know the first thing about the nature of climate change the implication was obvious: Prime Minister David Cameron was at the forefront of global warming and must be held to account for it. Scratch even half a millimetre below the surface of this take, of course, and it collapses as surely as the chunks of majestic ice floes did into the sea on the screen above the march.

David Cameron is not the issue here. Though I’m as scornful of him as any good liberal, he is not himself a huge contributory factor. His responsibilities do, of course, extend beyond the duties of thr average civilian, however strongly you feel about recycling. Separating your lids from your yoghurt pots is not on a par with attending the UN climate summit, and as someone who influences national environment policy he’s made some terrible choices. But it is not Cameron who brought us here, and it is not Cameron who will get us out.

That this is bigger than him, I need hardly point out. Of course it is – that’s why it’s a global crisis. It’s bigger than all of us, yet this personal clobbering of the PM has now become a hallmark of any protest. Gaza, the environment, gay and women’s rights: these have all become Cameron’s issues, regardless of the man’s views or involvement. Admittedly, as the ultimate representative of the nation, he needs addressing – but demonising him, or indeed any politician or party, this explicitly risks dividing people along political lines.

How many with conservative leanings felt shut out by climate protesters? How many shunned Gaza for similar reasons? How much more effective could these protests be if they transcended politics, and were presented as the human problems they truly are? Blame someone aggressively, and their first impulse is to defend or dissociate themselves from the issue in question. Beseech them to help, and on the whole you’ll receive a far more positive response. This applies to politicians, regardless of personal culpability, and it applies to parties. I am by no means defending the Tories, Labour or any government who has presided over fracking agreements or ruinous foreign conflicts, but we need their cooperation not their hostility if we are all to move on.

Last month the Scottish voted for unity in spite of Cameron, not because of him. They could see the bigger picture, and, in it, change happened because Britain stood together, not apart. What started as a debate thrashed out in parliament became the people’s problem, not the politicians’. It wasn’t apolitical, of course, but as time went on it became obvious to everyone that the consequences of either yes or no would transcend party lines.

As with the Scottish referendum, so with climate: there are two options: change, or be changed irreversibly. The consequences of either have little to do with politicians, but in the latter the entire planet is screwed. Friends who didn’t march, despite strong feelings on climate, cited feelings of exclusion: the march to them seemed for left wing and anti-Cameron people only. Yet while the rationality of this might seem flawed, from being there I instinctively know just what they mean.

Think again about the environment, Gaza, women’s right and gay rights. Ask someone to come up with left-wing characteristics and preoccupations and one or more of these will crop up. Do the same with right-wing, and the chances of any appearing are slim. Yet these are human issues, global issues, universal issues, about which all good people feel strongly and with which all want to assist. Leave Cameron out of it. Leave parties out of it. Rail against the government, of course, but don’t make it partisan. If the news of late has taught us anything, it is that more division is the very last thing we need.

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