Yesterday President Biden hosted a virtual climate summit, at which the United States was finally able to announce a climate target. It also saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson give a speech encouraging countries to get on board with the climate agenda.
I remember the deep cringe of last year, where Johnson insisted that he wasn’t talking about climate change because he was one of the “hair-shirt wearing, tree-hugging, mung-bean munching eco-freaks”. As if people thought he was. It was a thoroughly unnecessary parade of dated stereotypes that showed how little the Prime Minister is aware of environmental issues and how they’re perceived – including by the tabloids that he appears to be pandering to.
It’s also clear how uncomfortable he is talking about these things, trying to sound earnest about the climate while desperately distancing himself from people who are earnest about the climate.
Could he do better this time? I’ll quote his exact words from yesterday:
“It’s vital for all of us to show that this is not all about some expensive politically-correct green act of er of er er of of ‘bunny hugging’… or or or or however you want to put it. I mean there’s nothing wrong with bunny hugging, but you you know what I’m driving at, friends and colleagues.”
Well no, I’m not sure exactly what you’re driving at, but I’m pretty sure it’s not somewhere I want to go. But tell us Mr Johnson, what is climate change all about?
“This is about growth and jobs.”
This is what climate privilege looks like. Only someone with the luxury of being untouched by climate change could talk about it in these terms.
Because while it’s true that Johnson’s involvement in the debate is about growth and jobs, that is not what climate change is about. Of course, neither is it Johnson’s latest comedic parody of environmentalism that he sets up as the alternative.
I’d invite Johnson to consider what climate change means in New Orleans, in the Sundarbans, in the Marshall Islands, in South Sudan, Greenland, or the Californian town of Paradise. He wouldn’t have to try any harder than to listen to his fellow attendees at the same summit.
Climate change is a matter of survival. It’s about justice. It’s about suffering. It’s about which people and which cultures will thrive in the 21st century, and which will be destroyed.
As we respond to the urgency of climate change, there will be opportunities to create jobs and growth, don’t get me wrong. But that isn’t fundamentally what it’s about. If we think it is, we will be unable to take actions that may damage growth and jobs – such as closing coal mines, eating less meat, or halting airport expansion. And by failing to take those harder actions, climate change will get worse and people will die.
Climate change is a vast, multi-generational global injustice. And the very first step to addressing it is to tell the truth about it.