In the wake of the flooding of Houston, and following the devastation of UK-owned islands in the Caribbean, Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas took the opportunity to ask the government whether it would be working to address the danger of climate change. Remarkably, this question was slapped down by Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan, as ‘inhuman’ and ‘misjudged’ while ‘we are seeing people in deep and urgent immediate need.’
Setting aside the hypocrisy of a Tory minister (whose government has systematically killed off thousands of disabled, homeless and jobless people) lecturing anyone else about what is and what isn’t inhuman, this is actually a common tactic deployed by politicians and officials to deflect attention away from their misdeeds. Indeed, the same tactic is being used in the USA, as CNN’s Daniella Diaz reports:
“Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told CNN in an interview about Hurricane Irma on Thursday that the time to talk about climate change isn’t now. ‘To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced.’”
It sounds for all the world like conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic are being coached by the same political advisors, doesn’t it?
We can only assume that conservatives are incapable of multi-tasking. After all, any reasonably intelligent person should be capable of simultaneously expressing concern for the victims of a disaster while also raising pertinent questions about the role of official action/inaction in causing or contributing to the situation.
Nor is this the first time that politicians and/or officials have used the ruse of hiding behind their faux concern for disaster victims to hide their own culpability. In the wake of the terrorist bombing in Manchester in May, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn (and many others) sought to question the foresight of a government that had cut police numbers in the face of warnings from within the police service that they were setting up precisely the conditions that would allow terrorism to thrive. In response, Home Secretary Amber Rudd argued that:
“There may be a conversation to have about policing; we may have that at some stage. But now is not that conversation.”
Just a few weeks later, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused London Mayor Sadiq Khan of ‘outrageous politicking’ for asking whether cuts to the London Fire Brigade may have contributed to the disaster. Not, of course, that concern for victims prevented Iain Duncan Smith from taking the opportunity of the debate over Grenfell to pave the way for property speculators to take ownership of the prime real estate where the devastated tower had stood.
Britain’s most notorious second disaster of all – the denial of justice to the Hillsborough victims – demonstrates the importance of fixing the media narrative. It has taken a quarter of a century for the Hillsborough families to expose the lies told by the police and the media and finally see senior officials brought before a court to answer for their actions. Those same officials had no concern for the victims when they used their contact with newspapers like The Sun to set the narrative that the disaster was caused by drunken, ticketless Liverpool supporters.
It is true that thousands – perhaps millions – of hurricane victims both in Texas and the Caribbean are distraught at this moment. But six months from now, those same victims will be raising uncomfortable questions not just about climate change, but about how come nobody acted to protect their low-lying communities from precisely the kind of extreme weather events that climate scientists told us would become far more common as the twenty-first century progressed.
Given that the worst politicians and public officials in the UK and USA have simply denied the existence of climate change, while the best of them has done little more than talk about it, then now is exactly the right time to talk about it.
What politicians and their advisors understand all too well is that a week from now – assuming Jose doesn’t prove even bigger than Irma – the 24-hour news organisations will have moved onto something else. By then, nobody in the mainstream is going to be interested in talking about climate change. However, so long as the few remaining investigative journalists still employed by the mainstream media are wandering around in wellies and hi-visibility jackets looking for something to fill the news schedules, it is essential that climate scientists and campaigners take the opportunity to get their message across. After all, if they don’t, there will always be some headbanger who will claim the whole thing is nothing more than fake news or a divine punishment of homosexuals… and we don’t hear much from conservatives about the inhumanity of that.