Why you should be angry, and why anger isn’t enough

Last week the UK’s former chief climate diplomat John Ashton addressed students from Bedford School Sixth Form in a TEDx talk.

The speech was called Climate Change: why you should be angry, and why anger isn’t enough.

In it Ashton argues that young people must find their “collective voice as a generation” and play an active role in politics in a “purposeful, strategic and  organized” manner.

You can read an extract below – or download the full speech at the bottom of this page.

I want to give you two illustrations of where we are right now on climate change.

The first is from an official assessment, published by our own government last year, of the risks posed by climate change to the British national interest. In that document there is a passage that reads – I swear to you, this is word for word:

Although the melting of Arctic sea ice could have long-term implications for the UK’s climate and may damage the Arctic’s biodiversity, one potential positive outcome could be the opening up of new shipping routes to Asia and the Pacific. These offer the potential for shorter journey times, lower fuel costs and savings in Suez and Panama Canal transit fees.

Yes, that’s what it says.

The second illustration of where we are is from an experience I had recently. I was at a dinner in London.

Among the other guests was a senior security official an extremely senior security official – from a major NATO power. The conversation turned to the geopolitical implications of the melting ice in the Arctic.

Asked to give his opinion, people around the table hanging on his every word, the security official declared that as far as he could see the implications were positive. After all, the melting would make it easier to get oil out of the Arctic. That would push down the price, and make it harder for oil rich rogue states to cause trouble. Iran was mentioned.

So now, let’s put those two illustrations together. What are they saying? It seems to me they sum up rather nicely the current position of establishments and elites in most of the major economies. And that position goes something like this.

Climate change may be changing the Earth’s geography at a scale and pace unprecedented in history. But on the other hand we will be able to extract more of the oil and gas that are causing it and what is more we’ll be able to ship them around the world more cheaply. Hey, we’ll even make a saving on transit fees in Suez and Panama.

You could call that the Eric Idle position. Climate change may be the ruin of us. But, give a whistle, let’s look on the bright side.

I’ve been in the climate business for 15 years. I have to say I do get a little angry, in a good-natured way.

What makes me angry is not actually the Eric Idle thing. It’s not that we can’t deal with this problem, in the way that Eric couldn’t do much about being crucified. It was his destiny. What makes me angry is that we can deal with climate change.

We can deal with it but we aren’t dealing with it.

You have more of your futures ahead of you than I do. You are more exposed to the consequences of failing to deal with climate change. If I’m angry about that failure, you have a lot more to be angry about.

What do we need to do to deal with climate change? It’s not rocket science. We really need to do three things.

First, we need to take carbon emissions out of electricity (and a few industrial processes that also give off carbon dioxide). That is, no more power stations running on coal or gas unless they bury the carbon they emit.

Second, we need to use electricity instead of oil and gas for transport and heating. Those are the point sources. There are millions, perhaps billions, of vehicles and boilers. You can’t bury the emissions from those.

Third, we need to stop wasting energy. Efficiency can give us a big multiplier for our direct efforts on carbon.

When you put all that together you get a carbon neutral energy system, and we need to build that more or less by the time most of you get to my age.

We can do that.

John Ashton TEDx speech

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