It’s Scary That Boris Doesn’t Get Climate Change, But There’s A Bigger Problem…

Photographed by Anna Jay.
I saw in 2020 on the west coast of Ireland. Driving through lunar-like national parks, dipping into freezing cold lakes, walking along cliffs so windy I thought I might actually get blown away and sleeping in isolated houses with no phone signal, which rendered me, for the first time in a long time, truly unreachable. 
When I booked the trip, I was searching for something very specific: solace. While there, I realised I was looking for something else too. A way of reconnecting with nature, which I increasingly feel equally cut off from and concerned about. A huge part of my job is to sit in front of a screen and take stock of what’s happening in the world. 
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More and more, that involves reading stories about climate change, whether it’s a "final call to save the world from climate catastrophe" from experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), coverage of Extinction Rebellion or stories about schoolchildren going on strike to protest their frustration at politicians’ continued inertia and reluctance to take any meaningful action. 
Today, that involved waking up to the news that Claire O’Neill, a former minister who was leading Britain’s efforts to hold the UN Climate Change Conference of world leaders in Glasgow later this year, has been sacked by Boris Johnson’s key advisor, Dominic Cummings. 
In response to her dismissal, she has sent the prime minister a letter saying that the UK is "miles off track" when it comes to climate change, warning that promises of action "are not close to being met". 
O’Neill feels that the prime minister has shown a "huge lack of leadership and engagement" when it comes to climate change and even admitted that he doesn’t understand the issue. 

The UK was one of the first countries to promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. However, critics say the government lacks any clear plan as to how we go about this.

At the end of her letter she says: "You had a vision for Brexit and you got Brexit done," and suggests that with "less than 7,000 hours before the start of COP26" which someone else will now have to organise, time is running out to "set a new global vision for climate recovery and build a new consensus for global climate action." 
We’ve come to expect backwards behaviour on climate change from Donald Trump. Alarming as it is when he dismisses the likes of Greta Thunberg as "alarmists" or says climate change is "an expensive hoax", living in Britain has afforded us a certain amount of comfort because our leaders are (publicly at least) seen to be a bit more on it.
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Now, that's confirmed to be far from the case. The UK was one of the first countries to promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. This target was made law by Theresa May before she stepped down as prime minister. However, critics say the government lacks any clear plan as to how we go about this.
Boris Johnson has become a single-issue prime minister. He stood on a Brexit platform and made leaving the EU his sole purpose as a politician. By ignoring the climate crisis he risks gambling away the future – not only of Britain but of the entire planet – in order to achieve his own short-term goal. 
It can hardly be any wonder that public concern about climate change is increasing, with "eco-guilt" and "eco-anxiety" reportedly on the rise. It’s a relatively new concept but a recent Yale study suggests that one in five people are "very worried" about global warming, with women in particular more likely to be troubled by it.
How are we supposed to deal with climate change? We know that our planet is in big trouble. We know that we face a climate emergency. We know that scientists are worried. And we know that the effects of global warming are already being felt around the world.
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We buy KeepCups, we make sure we have a reusable water bottle, we think about our energy consumption and we question how many flights we take. We’ve absorbed the panic and the guilt on behalf of world leaders who aren’t giving climate change the attention it deserves. 

Boris Johnson has become a single-issue prime minister. He stood on a Brexit platform and made leaving the EU his sole purpose as a politician.

This has to be one of the greatest tricks of capitalism. It’s a cunning neoliberal flip reverse. As Naomi Klein wrote in her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate: "Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature."
In Klein's most recent book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, she writes that the idea that we "as atomised individuals, could play a significant part in stabilising the planet’s climate is objectively nuts."
And yet, still, we beat ourselves up about something that is ultimately beyond our control. Perhaps we beat ourselves up because it makes us feel more in control. 
We are all, by virtue of inhabiting the Earth at this particular moment in time, complicit in the systems and structures which are damaging the environment. If you’re reading this, you’re using a computer or a smartphone. If you had a shower this morning, you used water. If you drove to work, you probably filled the tank of your car up with petrol. If you’re wearing clothes right now, they impacted the environment when they were made. 
We are all – to some degree – hypocrites. It’s almost impossible to live a completely carbon neutral, environmentally friendly life all the time. But the real challenge with climate change is this: the problem is on a scale so big that it’s almost impossible to conceptualise. It’s so much bigger than us, beyond what we can actually do in our day-to-day lives. Yet we need to think about it through the lens of our everyday lives, and through the lives of other people, in order to understand its impact. We have to find a way of doing this without letting leaders, like Johnson, off the hook. 
In the end, shopping at more eco-friendly stores and making sure you don’t get takeout coffee probably won’t solve the climate crisis. We might find ourselves compromised but that doesn’t mean we should feel hopeless. There are still things you can do. Paying attention to what our prime minister says and does is a good place to start. Writing to him to express your support for Claire O’Neill, as you are completely entitled to do, is another. 

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