Is the climate change discussion in the right place?

7 February, 2011


Richard Burge, Chief Executive, writes:

The military and medical professions are used to talking about preparing for and surviving cataclysmic change.  For them recovery is not necessarily a return to business as usual.  It is all about creating a workable solution for very changed circumstances from which there is not recovery, no redemption, no return to the status quo.

Through the Climate and Health Council, the Lancet/UCL Commission on Climate Change, and the hallowed corridors of the Royal College of Physicians (who finally got the world to see the huge personal, societal and economic cost of smoking), the physicians have turned their attention to climate change but not very vocally.   The UK National Security Strategy says climate change is a risk but in a subdued manner.

In the global debate on climate change, preparedness and adaptation for such change is often spoken of in whispers.  To be more vocal results in being accused of defeatism or diverting attentions for the real task of emission reduction.

The consequences of significant rises in global temperature are truly catastrophic, in terms of the loss of life, displacement of people, and the shortage of resources, it is on the same scale as the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  It will be a process of containing the damage, retreating to areas that can be secured, and making horrendous decisions on who lives and who dies.  Large areas of our inhabited planet will be abandoned.

Perhaps we need to blunter that there is no recovery from climate change.  Perhaps we need to encourage our doctors and military planners to be more vocal, describing the decisions we need to take as we prepare for the inevitable.   Perhaps we need to put climate change on the same footing as counter-proliferation of WMD.  Should we deploy for climate change (as we have done for nuclear Armageddon) the most powerful impetus of all for emission reduction; the impetus of fear?


Richard Burge

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