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Some Good News About the Environment! (But Also Some Bad!)

Consider this your handy guide through the blizzard of terrifying UN reports, electioneering and pseudo-science.

by Matthew Neale
23 May 2019, 10:12am

Anti-fracking protesters in London. Photo: Guy Bell / Alamy Stock Photo

On the 15th of March, 2019, children around the world walked out of school and took to the streets to march in the first global climate strike. Across the world, classrooms from Tokyo to Kampala emptied to send out the message; in Stockholm’s central square, particular attention was being paid to 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, whose activism had seen her nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize just one day prior.

The strikes received sufficient media attention to call them a success, but Thunberg knows better than anyone that placid token gestures can be more dangerous than silence. The now-famous speech she gave at Davos hit home specifically because it took aim at those polite expressions of contrition – what we might call the “thoughts and prayers” narrative – in the way we talk about climate emergency. “I don’t want you to be hopeful,” she said. “I want you to panic.”

The concern, perhaps, was that climate change protests had now had their moment in the sun. But recent polling suggests people still believe in making changes – in a Snapchat poll conducted in February by VICE, 63 percent of voters said they believe protest works, while 68 percent said they still believed it wasn’t too late to unfuck the planet.

To help navigate your way through the blizzard of UN reports, electioneering and pseudo-science, below is a timeline covering the significant global events that have happened since the first international School Strike for Climate march.

MARCH 18: JAPAN SIGNALS A MOVE AWAY FROM COAL

The next G20 summit takes place in Osaka this June, so it makes sense that Japan has started hinting a move away from coal and towards renewable energy. Japanese banks are also abandoning coal investments, perhaps more due to sensing the wind of change blowing through financial investments rather than any noble sense of responsibility – but hey, whatever works, right?

According to reports offshore wind farms are in the pipeline instead, with a current projected cost of 22 trillion yen (£14b). The move comes as part of Japan’s aim to make renewable energy account for at least 22 percent of the country’s energy by 2030.

Activists from Rebellion Extinction protesting in Brussels
Activists from Rebellion Extinction protesting in Brussels. Photo: SOPA Images Limited / Alamy Stock Photo

MARCH 31: AUSTRALIAN ELECTIONS BECOME MAJOR CLIMATE CHANGE BATTLEGROUND

Historians may well look back at Australia’s 2019 general election as the first national democratic contest to focus on the climate emergency. March was Australia’s hottest month on record – and just like in the UK, the opposition Labor party were fighting to prove they have the answers, announcing. Labor leader Bill Shorten made some big promises, indicating on March 31 that a Labor government would ensure that 50 percent of new cars would be electric by 2030, and declaring a commitment to improve emissions policy in key industries. Unfortunately, Australians ended up voting in the Liberal National Coalition in May.

APRIL 1: EXTINCTION REBELLION'S NAKED PROTEST IN PARLIAMENT

As if Brexit wasn’t stressful enough, Extinction Rebellion (commonly shortened to XR) reminded everyone that the planet was also on fire by getting their bums out in parliament. During a Brexit debate.

Iggy Fox, a 24-year-old protester and wildlife biologist, said she’d had enough. “I won’t stop causing disruption until the government does its duty to protect the people from disaster,” she told reporters. Until then, keep your eyes peeled for more arses in Westminster.

APRIL 15: XR SHUT DOWN LONDON AND GAIN LABOUR APPROVAL

More student protests took place on April 12, but it’s the big XR rally that draws headlines three days later, including a slap on the wrist from potential Conservative leadership candidate Sajid Javid: “Let me be clear: I totally condemn any protesters who are stepping outside the boundaries of the law. They have no right to cause misery for the millions of people who are trying to lead their daily lives. Unlawful behaviour will not be tolerated.”

A week later, the shadow energy minister Barry Gardiner compared them to suffragettes and anti-apartheid activists: “All of those victories were won by citizens uniting against injustice, making their voice heard. Extinction Rebellion and the school climate strikers are doing just that.”

MAY 2: HOUSE DEMOCRATS PASS BILL DIRECTING TRUMP TO STAY IN PARIS DEAL

Two weeks after New York signposted the next step in the Green New Deal plans, Democrats passed their first significant climate change legislation since gaining control of the House of Representatives this year, beseeching Donald Trump to remain involved in the Paris Agreement. Not all Republicans are enthused. “My colleagues on the left think these self-inflicted national injuries are just the right thing to do,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

MAY 7: THE US QUITE EXCITED ABOUT MELTING ICE CAPS, ACTUALLY

By early May, Thunberg’s request for panic seemed to be taking hold across the UK and Europe. Scotland announced they would be dropping aviation tax cut plans not long after Nicola Sturgeon declared a climate emergency – Ireland would follow them on May 10, just one day after it was reported that the UK completed its first coal-free week in a century.

The Trump administration revealed a much sunnier disposition. “Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a forum in Finland, apparently in earnest. “This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days.”

MAY 14: TRUMP NOT LOSING ANY SLEEP OVER CLIMATE CHANGE

Three days after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave a speech signalling his worry that the will to fight climate change may be fading, Jeremy Corbyn revealed plans to fit solar panels in 1.75m UK homes.

Right on cue, Donald Trump’s interior secretary David Bernhardt told an interviewer the same day that he hasn’t “lost sleep over” the record-breaking levels of pollution heating the planet – despite scientific data showing that the US has put more carbon pollution into the atmosphere than any other nation in history, and the fact that the US’s carbon emissions actually went up last year.

Bernhardt is a former oil and gas lobbyist, by the way.