Britain is experiencing a summer with record breaking temperatures, occasionally exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. Spain and other parts of Europe too are going through a very hot summer which is leading to forest fires. Climate and atmosphere scientists are giving technical explanations for this phenomenon. In many cases they admit that their conclusions are tentative. What they all agree on though is that these heat waves are linked to climate change. They also note, as a respected American newspaper reported “…heat waves in Europe are increasing in frequency and intensity at a faster rate than in almost any other part of the world, including the Western US’.
The British and the Europeans do not know how to handle such heat. Historically, summers were always a time of liberation from the long, cold, often snowy, grey, dull and depressing winters. Summers were full of joy and that spirit is celebrated in English literature. As the British and Europeans confront heatwaves how will it be reflected by their writers and artists? In this context this writer may be forgiven a personal reference. As a boy of seven he read, in the month of May, in a town in the north Indian plains, a poem in an English textbook extolling the beauty and charm of summer when flowers blossomed and birds sang. He had wondered then how summers with their high heat could be beautiful. The memory of that confusion has remained with him all through these decades.
British and European residential and public buildings are constructed to cater to cold and not hot weather. Thus, they have heating systems and nothing to cool them. Unless scientific predictions are wrong Britain and Europe will have to brace themselves for warmer summers interspersed with heat waves. This will impact many areas of their lives and will be reflected sooner in architecture but eventually in literature and even art and lifestyles. Perhaps future poets will be more wary of praising summers!
As a former diplomat this writer wonders if all this modify the thinking of the advanced and industrialised countries on climate change. The evidence of climate change and its impact on weather patterns is being experienced in daily lives in most parts of the world. It is no longer a projection in scientific papers. Yet, in the United States which is pivotal to controlling emission of greenhouse gases sectional interests are preventing the adoption of measures which will limit such emissions. President Joe Biden appears to be serious on adopting measures to control climate change. He reversed his predecessor Donald Trump’s step of taking the US out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. However, Biden is meeting with opposition from within his own party. This had seriously jeopardised his intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. Naturally, such an ambitious cut would mean a partial but important restructuring of the US economy and people’s lifestyles. Many are unwilling to take measures for these purposes. It remains to be seen if Biden will be able to craft positions to either persuade the nay-sayers or take constitutional steps to override their opposition.
As the US baulks to do what is required on its part for controlling climate change its attempts to persuade other countries become weak. However, many countries like India are conscious of the negative effects of climate change and are fulfilling their obligations under international agreements. These at a cost, but sustainable development is eventually necessary. The question is if Britain and Europe will follow the lead taken by developing countries on climate change and fulfil their domestic responsibilities and international pledges of financial and technical assistance or continue to go the US way.
The US and other advanced countries which includes all European states record on climate change has been irresponsible and shameful. As this writer has noted in these columns in the past the advanced world has reneged on every pledge it has made over the past three decades on climate change. It had agreed to the principles of historical responsibility and common but differentiated obligations. That meant that it acknowledged that its industrialisation had set the ball rolling for man-made climate change and equity and justice demanded that the development of poorer countries should not be curtailed by their undertaking onerous measures to curtail climate change. Also that the advanced industrialised countries would assist developing countries to adapt and to mitigate the impact of climate change.
All this, they have not done.
The reason is that the peoples of the industrialised world have been unwilling to change their wasteful lifestyles and that climate change debate came to be viewed through the prism of power politics. The latter was especially so after the rise of China and the emergence of India. Whatever the advanced world may profess, its mindset has still not changed fully to do what is necessary on its part on climate change.
What needs to be also considered is if the current model of development which is based on the deployment of vast capital and through it on vast profits, resulting in growing disparities in income and wealth is in harmony with the object of combatting climate change. It is not. Hence, the global economy has to be refashioned and a change in basic thinking has to occur. This has to be so even if there are technological breakthroughs leading to a greatly reduced dependence on hydrocarbons. The problem is that there are currently few takers for such thinking.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.