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Climate change

Let’s learn from the pandemic

“The apocalypse has already arrived,” says Aris Roussinos in UnHerd. I’m writing, “drenched in sweat”, from my ancestral village in Corfu, where we’re enduring Greece’s worst heatwave in 34 years. At least I’m not on the island of Evia, where wildfires have turned thousands of acres of forest to ash and thousands of villagers into refugees. On Wednesday the highest temperature in European history, 48.8C, was recorded in Sicily.

The “burning Mediterranean” provides a grimly appropriate backdrop to the 3,949-page report published on Monday by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The COP26 summit in Glasgow in November aims to limit global warming to 1.5C, but the IPCC says we’ll overshoot it. As the report shows, “southern Europe is drying out while northern Europe is getting wetter, leading to anomalous and devastating floods like those in Germany and even London this summer”. António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, summed it up as “code red for humanity”. How long will my two young sons be able to live safely in our homeland? It doesn’t seem fanciful to imagine Greek climate refugees within Europe “joining the desperate masses pressing on the continent from outside”.

All the “fire and brimstone” talk is overdone, says The Wall Street Journal. Since its last report in 2013, the IPCC has revised the likely upper limit of global warming from 4.5C to 4C. The new report has “low confidence” that Antarctic Sea ice will melt, and its linkage of warming to hurricanes, heatwaves and floods is based on computer models that will need to be examined by independent experts. It’s a “political document”, designed to grab attention, and it certainly doesn’t justify big government intervention.

I worry that the grim news “will prompt apathy rather than action”, says Helen Lewis in The Atlantic. “We’re all doomed, so why bother fighting it?” Oddly, the pandemic has given me hope. In less than two years we’ve created and distributed multiple vaccines for a previously unknown virus. Proximity to disaster can change minds and prompt drastic action: compare the “sluggish” vaccine rollout in Australia, where Covid infections have remained low, to Britain’s speedy campaign amid sky-high cases.

These 50ft walls of fire in our own backyard should spur us to get our act together. There’s already a “green vortex” under way, with institutions starting to decarbonise before legislation forces them to. And the pandemic didn’t cause society to break down. “In the face of existential threats, most of us are co-operative, kind and resilient.” Human ingenuity, which led us down from the trees and up to the moon, can save us – if we’re bold enough to use it.

🥬 🛍 ☕️ We’re “terrible judges of what is and isn’t green”, says Sam Dumitriu in the free-market blog CapX. Producing food is far more carbon-intensive than transporting it – one study found that importing Spanish lettuce in winter, rather than growing it locally, cut emissions by up to eight times. You need to use a cotton tote bag 7,000 times for it to be greener than a single-use plastic bag. Dishwashers use less water and energy than hand-washing. And those aluminium Nespresso pods hawked by George Clooney? All in all, they’re greener than ground coffee.