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Climate change - 'For many people the penny hasn't dropped'

Susan Watts | 16:17 UK time, Thursday, 22 October 2009

Newsnight got a mention this morning in Ed Miliband's speech at the Science Museum.

"We cannot let Copenhagen pass people by," he said at the launch of "Prove It", a temporary exhibit that brings together the evidence for climate change.

The energy and climate change secretary said one of his fears is that this will be "an item on Newsnight, and then people forget about it".

I'm sure he didn't mean that people forget about items on Newsnight... rather that he wants the issue to get a wider audience than our devoted viewers.

And that was the point of this morning's event. Both of the brothers Miliband, Ed and David, the foreign secretary, helped to launch the government's map of the possible effects of a global temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The chief scientist, professor Sir John Beddington, said the map (produced by the Met Office Hadley Centre) showed the disastrous effects of such a temperature rise.

He and Chris Rapley, director of the museum and former director of the British Antarctic Survey, stressed the need for people to understand the dangers of failure at the Copenhagen conference in December.

David Miliband said too many people still failed to grasp the scale and urgency of the problem. He said climate change was a foreign policy issue that will deepen Middle East tensions, trigger wars over water and food, and lead to unprecedented migration unless action is taken now.

"For too many people, not just in our own country but around the world, the penny hasn't yet dropped... that this climate change challenge is real and is happening now...The penny hasn't dropped too that Copenhagen is the chance to address on a global scale the climate change challenge. There isn't yet that sense of urgency and drive and animation about the Copenhagen conference."

Professor Myles Allen, a climate modeller from Oxford University, told me about his own contribution to the exhibition - a tonne of coal. His goal is to make people think about the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. People have already burnt enough fossil fuels to have passed the half a trillion tonne mark.

Prof Allen says that if we are to avoid dangerous climate change then we must never burn the trillionth tonne. If Copenhagen succeeds, the museum will hold on to the "trillionth" tonne in perpetuity. If it fails, museum staff will - eventually - ceremoniously burn this trillionth tonne.

You can find out more, and keep track on the number of tonnes being released on the trillionth tonne "ticker". Prof Allen told me his children "freaked out" when they saw it. Not perhaps his intention, but a sobering message that he hopes will make people think positively about changing their lifestyles.

David Miliband said the stakes are high - affecting the future lives of millions of people. And for the political process too. If the multilateral system is unable to address climate change, then people will say it's a discredited system, he told reporters.

He hinted at the failure this week of EU finance ministers to agree a financial package to help developing countries to adapt to climate change and help prevent it.

And that's perhaps the biggest hurdle ahead, with another chance next week, in the lead up to the European Council meeting in Brussels.

"It will be relatively few people who decide...It will come down to the fundamental question - are leaders prepared to take the potential flak from their own countries from those who say 'we can't afford this'? That is essentially a political decision that requires vision over the long term."


  • Comment number 1.

    Climate change - 'For many people the penny hasn't dropped'

    A little intrigued by that headline... ah... another person said it.

    Still, I am sure mentioning Newsnight is as good a way as any to get to see what you say 'reported'.

    Just as when Sir John Beddington said the map (I'm guessing this would be the 4 degree rise one I read just now that a Guardian scribe 'loved'... not sure that's quite the word I'd have chosen, but heigh-ho) showed the disastrous effects of such a temperature rise. Guessing no words of caution needed there either in the telling, or passing on of such factual predictions. I look forward to the next £6M campaign concept, as the first has worked so well (if hopefully not banned by the ASA for claims that were a bit enthusiastic in supporting emerging truths).

    Much like the rest of the 'objective' commentary here. My kids did not 'freak out'. I'd suggest such quotes are erring a wee bit too far into enhanced narrative territory for sensible sharing. As is persisting with 'proving/the evidence for climate change' from pol to parrot. That construct is at best meaningless, and at at worst a misrepresentation of the views of many less convinced that everything should get sunk into a green hole the glee club have whipped up.

    As for 'If it fails, museum staff will - eventually - ceremoniously burn this trillionth tonne.' Do what? Is this an irony-free, 'awareness industry’ lampooning version of Blazing Saddles' famous hostage scene or a go at 'do what we want, or the bunny gets it'.

    So I'll still be one still pondering what exactly it is that is 'to be afforded' and what 'it' is planned to actually do before giving carte blanche to any of the current crop of brain strains - 'It will be relatively few people who decide' Uh-huh - to tax what they feel like, build what they feel like and ignore what they don't fancy.

    The exhibition sounds a worthy extra piece of further information, and I am only sorry I do not live in London to visit it. I wish I could say the same for how it has been shared here, where it deserves to languish if in its current form, frankly. For once, Miliband E. might have been more accurate.

    ps: I'm guessing 'countries' rather than 'counties'

  • Comment number 2.

    gordon blocked every bill bringing in a feed in tariff.
    labour has never challenged the exploitation of the british people by energy multinationals [some foreign state owned].

    as for NN they gave green issues to someone who presented themselves as a mr bean buffoon who can't drive trucks.

    sw did a whole piece on german energy and never mentioned the feed in tariff that generates billions in income and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

    in the uk the public are still treated like mushrooms

  • Comment number 3.


    'Limited Ed' becomes 'Totally Unsuitable Ed' when given a science-based brief. But then the 'bestowal' of departments by a PM is like titles by a monarch. It is never going to occur to Ed that he should do anything other than swallow the standard narrative whole. And should he fall into conversation with Our Susan, I don't think she is going to dent his espousal (can you do that?). Yet there is much to question, especially when we get all the 2 and 4 degree prognoses.

    Coming to the Carbolator: add in a base line of the total carbon in the biosphere and then show the tonnage currently in the atmosphere, and the kids will really have some numbers to freak at. While you are at it, ask: "Where is the control earth" - the identical planet where there is no man-made CO2, ESSENTIAL to proper science and deductions?

    Is it close enough to Christmas to say BAH HUMBUG?

    PS I did not bother to mention the 'Electric Universe', an increasingly viable cosmology that may well blow anthropogenic CO2 theory to the stars.

    PPS When can we have some whizzy numbers showing the Brownal Debt rising? I asked Newsnight nicely some time back.

  • Comment number 4.

    Many of the worlds most serious problems, Wars, Starvation, Energy Crisis, Social Injustices, Rouge Dictators, Political Blunders. often have the same common obstacle, in the way of the global efforts needed for their solutions.
    Our Leaders & those who have the power to influence change are extremely inefficient in doing so, as they often lack the relevant experience & therefore are rarely on the same page to begin with.

    What a different world we could live in if someone in the media could have the courage & strength to break the mold & start this ball rolling...

    I'd like to see changes in the way we approach politics, especially at the UN level. I don't trust the idea of the gifted amateur. I want my politicians to have a good all round knowledge of the way the world works before s/he is allowed anywhere near political office. And i'd like this verified, whether it be through, Proof of study, Relevant life experience or passing a test in 'ethical standards & aptitude' for politicians.
    Even vets must have qualifications to ensure s/he doesn't harm animals before s/he is allowed to treat them for their medical conditions. Doctors must be qualified before being allowed to deal with people's medical conditions. We are rightly concerned that animals and humans are treated well to cure them. The aim is to enhance lives at a physical or an emotional level.
    It seems strange to me that we expect professional expertise at the level of the individual, but at the societal level, we rely on the "gifted amateur" to settle international disputes that could lead to civil unrest between races or even war. We entrust countries and their peoples to the care of politicians who may know nothing at all about political history or the ways societies function. It is felt that their very amateur status is a good thing. So an ex-maths teacher may suddenly be in charge of foreign affairs. S/he may know nothing at all about the countries of the world, their traditions, their cultures, their histories and yet we trust such a person to recommend a course of action in often terrifying situations where war may be the outcome if (avoidable) bad decisions are made. I find that scary. By analogy, it is like asking a witch doctor to perform a heart transplant – nowhere near qualified enough! No matter how charismatic he is, or how big of a following this has brought him/her.
    Why not set the wheels in motion to make all would-be (major league politicians) study politics and societies and current affairs in the world before they are judged competent to seek office. Is that really such a bad idea?

  • Comment number 5.


    As I posted yesterday:

    "I am of the view that we have an animal 'vehicle' (with a set of sustainable imperatives and traits that - left to themselves - would move us to seek and maintain a relevant niche in the ecology of this planet. However, to my observation, we also have an incongruous cerebral function, courtesy of a large brain. Without going into how this situation might have arisen, I hold the view that our animal and our cerebral functions are inherantly incompatible."

    I suspect politics is an animal process with a cerebral overlay. Hence Charisma (animal) with a veneer of deviousness (often via speech manipulation) makes for the consummate politician but for a dangerous being.
    In Westminster the whole has become an entity, protecting its continuance both through animal instinct and cerebral self-interest.

    I agree that 'it is a good idea'. However, a lot of 'bad' (poorly constituted) individuals stand in the way, manning the battlement of Citadel Westminster - and the 'Fear Weapon' is fully primed.

  • Comment number 6.

    I know that there a number of climate change sceptics on this blog but if for the sake of argument the 4 degree rise does come about, then doesn't this render the current debates on immigartaion and the EU fairly meaningless? If you look at the maps, who is going to want to live in the southern Europe? Where will they all want to come to live? Will freedom of movement of workers in the EU still be acceptable?

  • Comment number 7.

    1. At 6:53pm on 22 Oct 2009, you wrote:

    'do what we want, or the bunny gets it'.

    Will burning bunnies become the new biofuel?

    OO-eck. I was joshing... honest!

    'Bright eyes, burning like fire...'

  • Comment number 8.

    6. At 10:30am on 23 Oct 2009, nedafo wrote:

    Looking at much that the brothers Miliband seem to be getting up to jointly and together, on planetary matters and future personal career paths, whether anything is acceptable or not to any in the 'electorate' might soon become moot, especially as regards the EU.

    And as I am on my 'nth' blog or tweet from major media organs citing this chart today (the latest from New Scientist, advocating that I 'scare myself'... one up on a Grauniad journo 'loving it'), I have to say I am indeed becoming more concerned.

    Though, perhaps not quite with what the authors might be intending.

    ps: And before the pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers start pointing and screaming, I cannot be a 'climate change sceptic', as that term has no rational meaning. And hence its use by many who really should be know better is... odd.

  • Comment number 9.

    Why should I care about climate change, which may or may not happen and which we may or may not be able to change, when the world's leaders don't care about the massive and unsustainable rise in the world's population which IS happening and which we CAN do something about?

  • Comment number 10.

    OO-eck #2...

    Owners should consider doing without, downsizing or even eating their pets to help save the planet

    Imagine asking certain pols whether they have pets? Eco-voters vs. pet-loving voters. It'll make Mr. Brown's Biscuitfudge look positively decisive.

  • Comment number 11.

    The online Prove It poll run by the Science Museum is voting 5:1 against the following proposition: "I've seen the evidence. And I want the government to prove they're serious about climate change by negotiating a strong, effective, fair deal at Copenhagen." Current score (at 12.14 BST) 391 "Count Me Ins" to 2048 "Count Me Outs"!

    It is quite amazing that an institution which has a long history of service to science should lend itself to this attempted PR stunt. I quote from the Prove It website:

    "Choose a point that you think will motivate your friends and family.
    "Climate change has already started and we're causing it. ""

    For heaven's sake, the climate has been changing sine the earth formed, how can humans have started it?

  • Comment number 12.

    the penny most certainly hasnt dropped. though ed and the pm are not the innocent parties they believe themselves to be.
    the car scrappage incentive for example is a perfect example of how governmet policy is failing the envoironment.
    a diesel car with an efficient engine can be up to 50% more expensive. if your milage is modest there is more incentive to purchase a car that produces more C02.
    if the envoironment is now top priority then government policy must be "joined up"
    the next incentive should be far more targeted. for example vat should be used to increase the price of higher emmitting cars but lower those of more efficient ones.
    households could also be set a maximum unit level of electricity that can be used at 5% vat. once above that then it increases.
    we just need to think a little deeper.

  • Comment number 13.

    With coal and oil industries owning the governments or operated by some governments the chance for any meaningful change is slim. This is no different from banking and financial services, the same people are responsible for over-sight, for which they have a track record of complete failure. They do want to promote a new tax scheme as if it will make a difference but it is really to generate revenues for the governments that let the banks steal it to begin with. Put efforts toward an alternative clean fuel, disengage from the Middle-East and create a robust economy implementing a new clean energy production. The barriers to change remain with the vested interest of existing producers and their corrupt political allies.
    Some profess the problem is too many people, but the issue is with too few people making too much money with too much power.

  • Comment number 14.

    "Choose a point that you think will motivate your friends and family.
    "Climate change has already started and we're causing it. ""

    "For heaven's sake, the climate has been changing sine the earth formed, how can humans have started it?"

    Here is the new problem. Marketing people are getting involved in the climate change debate, by trying to spur people on with fancy phrases which twist or distort the facts. Politicians do it too, Al Gore perhaps most obviously.

    But do not use what these people say as an evidence in the argument that "man made" climate change is a false conspiracy.

    Of course natural climate change has happened before, the world has existed for billions of years. But there is nothing natural about taking trillions of tonnes of carbon in the ground and putting it in the atmosphere over the space of 150 years.

    @ ghostofsichuan

    Thats exactly the problem. The western world is not run by politicians, its run by businessmen, and all they care about is making more money.

    When did profits become more important that quality of life? We could have ended world hunger and prevented dangerous climate change several times over with the bank bail out money.

  • Comment number 15.

    There has always been climate change - where I live now was under ice 10,000 years ago, where I used to live there were numerous drowned villages off the coast that had succumbed to rising sea levels over the last 1,000 years. Why does the BBC always (and I mean always) assume climate change must be bad - some will benefit, some won't.
    And why is the BBC so reluctant to mention the unmentionable - that it's people who consume natural resources, and that the more people there are the more natural resources will be consumed. Malthus had a point!
    The BBC has allowed a BNP candidate to appear on one of its programmes, when it will allow someone with a different, polictially unacceptable, view on climate change to speak?

  • Comment number 16.

    All this rhetoric about 'anthropic climate change' and 'Global warming' ignores a few facts about the behaviour of the polar ice sheets and seasonal variations. Those who draw attention to this are unfairly labeled 'climate change deniers', as if they are malicious heretics wickedly trying to upset the applecart of the quasi-religious Greenies.
    According to Milankovitch, Earth passed the perihelion some ten or eleven years ago, and is now in the cooling phase as she returns to the middle of the next ice age at the aphelion in about 12,500 years time. Unpredictable variations in the 'Chandler Wobble' make long term seasonal forecasting unreliable. What Earth is experiencing now is the effects of residual heat gained during the approach to the perihelion.
    Our politicians appear to have cynically blamed these natural phenomena on the long-suffering English motorist and businesses such as agriculture.
    There is no doubt that variations in climate are happening and will continue to do so and that in general the Earth is warmer than it was in Charles Dickens' day despite the fact that huge quantities of coal and wood was burned in the nineteenth century to provide heating and gas for homes and increasingly heavy industry. Green Taxes will further encumber the uk and will eventually prolong the deep recession that our party politicians have got us into.

  • Comment number 17.

    "David Miliband said too many people still failed to grasp the scale and urgency of the problem"

    Chris Rapley has been saying much the same thing after his museum's 'Prove It' campaign backfired and polled far more votes for the sceptics than the faithful. What he and the Milibands fail to grasp is that the general public knows when it is being taken for a ride.

    Their problem is that they (and the CRU) are aboard a gravy train that is running out of track...


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