The following letter appeared in the Times last Friday:
Sir, Children and young people taking part in the school strikes for climate are to be commended, not ridiculed. The UN intergovernmental panel on climate change has said that we need to take decisive action now to avoid the worst effects of climate breakdown. Scorching temperatures, wildfires and floods are already claiming lives around the globe. As more land becomes inhospitable, the refugee crisis will deepen.
Young people seem to understand the urgency of this issue, while governments continue to drag their feet. The window for action is rapidly closing, and it is this generation, many not yet old enough to vote, who will have to deal with the consequences of global inaction. People in this country have a proud tradition of standing up for what’s right, so it is fitting that our school children have taken on that mantle on one of the defining issues of our time.
This was signed by a goodly selection of opinion-formers interested in environment / education. I'm fine with the first paragraph, more or less. I'd just note that the "we" refers to governments and peoples across the world whereas the striking students are, understandably or not, only focused on the UK.
However, the second is more problematic, I think. Whilst it's right to criticise governments as many clearly are dragging their feet, we need to remember that action-taking in this area is very difficult because of the interests we all have in the status quo. Take just one example, the UK government's recent decisive move to stop new houses (from 2025) having gas heating systems will upset a large number of people – and an even larger number will be upset when we get round to being forced to take out existing ones as we shall surely have to at some point.
And in some ways the UK is ahead of the game, hard though this may be to believe. UK CO2 emissions, for example, are now 39% lower than they were in 1990 and about the same level they were at around 1900 (yes, 1900) – and we're reducing emissions at a faster rate than most countries (3x faster than the fabled Germans for example). I didn't hear that on the BBC news. Not all of this positive development is down to government policy but a lot of it is: e.g., the dash for gas, subsidies to incentivise renewables, massive wind farms, a large carbon floor price. I'll stop here lest I seem complacent which I'm not. I'm just seeking some balance.