The spring of 2013 has been turbulent for those of us campaigning on climate change. On the 10th of May, global C02 levels exceeded a concentration of 400ppm* for the first time in human history. Then, rebel MPs missed out on achieving enough votes to secure green amendments to the energy bill by the narrowest of margins. Then, finally, on the 6th of June, the 21 No Dash For Gas activists who shut down West Burton power station for a week at the end of 2012 escaped prison sentences. Looking back, almost every emotion seems to have been encapsulated in that short space of time – from alarm, fear and gravitas, through frustration, disappointment and anger, to elation, vindication and renewed determination.
Reaching a global concentration of 400ppm is lodged in my mind as a momentous event, even though the levels of C02 in the arctic had passed 400ppm a while ago.** Maybe passing 400ppm should be viewed with no more significance than being at 390, or even 399ppm – but somehow, rather like landmark birthdays, 400ppm meant something – something momentous, something frightening. The chemical composition of our atmosphere has changed so much during our lifetimes that it is reaching levels it hasn’t been at since the Pliocene, 3-5 million years ago. To think that we are now living in an atmosphere radically different to the one we were born in is startling. We have changed the chemical composition of the particles of our universe.***
In the beginning of June, however, this startling reality was overlooked by members of parliament who appear to live in an alternate universe from the one the rest of us inhabit. Instead, from their parallel reality (presumably still graced with non-dangerous levels of CO2 in the atmosphere – perhaps 350ppm or maybe even 280ppm – the level our reality was at before the industrial revolution) MPs voted against putting a decarbonisation target in the energy bill. David Davis MP, once candidate for Tory leadership, suggested during the debate that climate change might be a load of ‘hogswash’ and insult was added to injury in the following weeks as Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Environment, revealed himself to be a climate sceptic. We looked on with disbelief and anger – aware that, if the situation wasn’t so serious, maybe having a sceptic as Secretary for the Environment might have been amusing. Unable to be moved by the satire, it felt like watching Nero fiddle while Rome burns.
But while MPs continue to escape reality, it would appear that the courts are not. Days after the disappointment of the energy bill the No Dash for Gas activists escaped becoming the first climate change activists to go to jail. Instead, while sentencing them to community service, the judge remarked on the impressive characters of the defendants and paid tribute to the fact that their actions had been ones of integrity. Echoing the Kingsnorth**** case, the judgment demonstrated the fact that actions of civil disobedience in the face of climate change are not seen to be disproportionate.
So, it’s been a turbulent time of mixed emotions – but one overriding message persists: that we have to keep fighting. While the powers that be continue to shirk their responsibility, we will have to do what is in our power to address the situation, before the ‘landmark birthdays’ become truly terrifyingly irreversible.
*ppm: parts per million
**Concentration of CO2 is higher in the Arctic.
*** I am using the word universe in a metaphorical sense to suggest that the Earth and its atmosphere is our universe – which it is for the vast majority of us who will never go outside of it. I am not suggesting we are changing the chemical composition of the Universe.
****The Kingsnorth Six were a group of Greenpeace activists who shut down Kingsnorth power plant, a coal burning powerstation in 2007.