Sunday, October 02, 2005


There is nothing like the threat of change to make people who may have complained loudly about their lot desperately want to cling to it.

Suddenly what they’ve got is what they want and they will fight to the last man or woman to keep things the way they are.
Even when the need for change is staring them in the face, the desire to put it off is overwhelming. Let it happen some day, one day. But not today. Not now.
It’s too expensive. Profits would be slashed. People would lose their jobs. It would be a political disaster. The reasons for delay are endless.
Fear of change is why the recent German election resulted in gridlock.
The country is bust economically and can no longer afford its generous welfare and pension schemes. But the prospect of change, which could mean the loss of comfort and financial security for millions, was too much. So they voted for stalemate to put off the evil day.
It was exactly the same fear that change might reduce their enviable living standards of short working hours and long holidays which made the French reject the European constitution.
By resisting and putting off change, France and Germany, who have been at the heart of the European Union since its beginning, have ensured that just when it needs to be looking outwards to ensure its power and influence in the global world, it will be looking inwards for years, so consumed by its own problems that it could lose its voice and place.
Yet neither country would be in the mess they’re in —locked into the old-fashioned ways of the 20th century as the UK was in the 1970s — if their leaders had faced up to change by streamlining their economies instead of shying away from the problems for short-term political gain.
Now we learn that a third of the Arctic ice has melted in the last decade and could be gone completely in eighty years. People are already growing potatoes in former ice fields in Greenland. Flowers could bloom in spring near the North Pole by the end of the century — unless there is international agreement to put a firm cap on carbon emissions.
Except it will never happen.
Governments and the lobbies who lean on them have too much to lose NOW.
China is not going to inhibit its march to superpower status by giving up burning fossil fuel. The great global corporations will never risk their profits by abandoning ways which produce carbon emissions – or stop sending their executives around the world in clouds of jet stream.
Individually, people will not cut back on their holiday flights or give up the comfort and convenience of their cars.
No one will give up anything today for the sake of a tomorrow they are unlikely to see.
Instead we will continue to make the cosmetic alterations we have been faffing around with for years to stave off global warming and hope that the scientists have got it wrong — despite the very real risk that the consequences may be a lot worse than if we took real action now.
The tipping point may already have been passed. The drought and floods and forest fires which swept Portugal, Spain and France this summer may only have been the beginning of far greater and perhaps now inevitable change to come. Ditto the possibility that climate change may have contributed to the force of the hurricanes which have devastated America’s Gulf Coast.
The way it’s going, the most likely prospect if the day comes when the planet is consumed by fire and flood is that we will still be making cosmetic alterations in a last ditch attempt to avoid catastrophe.
By then it will be a bit like taking a bow and arrow to fend off an asteroid heading for Earth.
Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2005. All Rights Reserved