Editorial: Putting the history books to one side
What does it say about me, that when anything huge happens on a national or international scale, I think about it in terms of what questions kids will have to answer about it in the history exams of the future? Probably just that I did A level history. No need to psychoanalyse any deeper than that.
Since the IPCC released its report on the state of the climate crisis on 9 August, that question has been: ‘Between 2000 and 2020, why did the West fail to avert the climate crisis?’
You’d have to consider the technological challenge – but also mention that, faced with coronavirus, the UK got from no vaccine to a largely vaccinated population in little over a year. Had there been a will there would have been a way.
You’d include the political answer, that democracies proved ill-equipped to tackle such a long-term problem, with governments working on four– to five–year cycles – although the example of China shows that those who had the political structure still might not want to sacrifice national prosperity.
You’d include the geopolitical answer, that the problem could not be solved by individual nations, and there weren’t the structures for global cooperation.
You’d include the economic answer, that reducing fossil fuel consumption would have reduced the profits of corporations whose primary function was to make profits, and who had considerable influence over governments.
And you’d include the psychological answer, that telling people, repeatedly, that they faced a massive problem requiring a massive solution risked making them feel it was too massive to fix and inducing spiritual paralysis. Add to that the fact that, day after day, life went on as normal, until it didn’t, and you have a world where it was much, much, much easier not to think about it than to do anything likely to make a significant difference.
Would I also say that before the IPCC report of August 2021 and the COP26 meeting that November the problem had never seemed urgent enough for world leaders to get their acts together, and that when the report told them they still had one last chance, they took it? Please, God.
But life is not a history exam. Or if it is, the questions are more likely to focus on my own doings and not doings than on the three field system and the 1832 Reform Act. Looking at past papers, I’m expecting something along the lines of ‘What did the Lord require of you?’ Before I’m ready to answer that, I think I need to put my history books to one side and take to the streets.
This article was published in the September 2021 edition of Reform