Shas Sheehan: The unimaginable horror of climate change for marginalised communities

Yesterday, the Office of National Statistics held an event to discuss the social impact on climate change. Lib Dem Peer Shas Sheehan spoke at the event, comparing the Extinction Rebellion protesters to the Suffragettes.

She spoke about how the impact of climate change would be felt most acutely by the most marginalised. Here is her speech in full:

In 1989 I cut short my career in advertising to do a masters in Environmental Technology, at Imperial College.

I wanted to get back to my science roots and study for myself the evidence for environmental degradation. Climate change wasn’t a big thing then. What was exercising environmentalists then included depletion of the ozone layer, acid rain, species loss and of course the radioactive cloud that was the legacy of Chernobyl.

Governments took action on the ozone layer and acid rain, because the evidence that both were caused by man was there before our eyes.

We could see the ozone hole from space, we could see the dying forests and the lakes devoid of life.

Visuals that are quantifiable are important when it comes to carrying public opinion.

So, the cover of the Economist a few weeks ago will have a powerful and lasting effect.

It shows a stripey red, white and blue flag, which colour codes the average temperature for each year starting from the mid 1800s to the present day, as measured against the average temperature from 1971 to 2000.  Colours range from darkest blue to deep crimson.

It is, quite frankly, frightening to see the cumulative effect. Since the 2000s we have been in red territory. And two out of the last three years have been deep crimson.

No wonder people have taken to the streets. They, like the suffragettes a century ago, have right on their side.

Back in 1989 Gro Harlem Brundtland’s Report, “Our Common Future” was a sort of bible for everyone who wanted to make the world a better place.

It detailed a long term agenda for action and aspirational goals for the world community.

It recognised that environmental degradation had become a fundamental survival issue for developing nations, linking it directly to poverty and inequality.

Today, of course we see more starkly the catastrophic damage that extreme and unusual weather is wreaking across  the world – and of course it is the poorest who always suffer the most.

Their fragile existences are blown or washed away – often with devastating loss of life and livelihoods. Or sometimes the devastation comes with the slow but relentless drying out of the land that feeds them. Drought and famine stalks the Sahel, with recovery time between droughts decreasing.

And all the while the Amazon burns, destroying the lungs of the earth that are vital carbon sinks and taking with it flora and fauna that hasn’t even been catalogued yet.

Here in the west we shamelessly continue to support fossil fuel infrastructure that will continue to pump out CO2 well after 2050 -where is the sense in that?

Climate change, caused, and perpetuated, by the richest countries, will affect the whole world but it will cause unimaginable horror amongst the most marginalised people in developing countries.

The SDGs are a comprehensive, up to date vision, of “Our Common Future”.  A blueprint for how we bring harmony to the beating heart of this planetary organism, on which all living things depend.

It is a transformational vision – one that recognises the inter-connectedness of all life on Earth, from the Arctic to the Antarctic – and every latitude in between.

It details how to bring Peace and Prosperity to our People and Planet through Partnership.

17 Goals, 169 targets and 244 indicators to transform our world and progress to a world where we leave no-one behind.

The challenge is to measure that progress so that we and they can hold the feet of governments to the fire.

To quote from “Our Common Future”: “The environment does not exist as a sphere separate from human actions, ambitions and needs and cannot be defended in isolation.” Climate is a matter for the whole of government and for all governments, and cannot be shunted off to one government department.

I firmly believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way. The ‘will’ of the people, if you like, is out there, the Extinction Rebellion folk are not going to let us off the hook.



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  • Thank you for this very interesting contribution.
    We all start with our own experience of the world. For me this is a view which started in 1940. Since then every aspect of my environment has changed dramatically. Pollution has increased in land, sea and air. And of course in electromagnetic radiation in the form of the radio waves we use for our TV and for our internet. Species are dying at an alarming rate. I have witnessed this by the changes in agriculture. We spray poisons on our land and this changes habitats. Of course food is increasingly artificial.
    For me the conclusion must be that we, as humans must learn, very quickly, new ways of managing our planet. This must mean new ways of co-operating with one another. This must start at every level. How can we work with each other to face the reality that the planet cannot afford the wars that we continually fight with each other? How can we make decisions by means which involve everyone?
    The demonstrations that are taking place around the world are simply symptoms of our lack of ability to jointly manage the precious resources that we have.
    That is to me the real challenge.

  • The change that we need is so fundamental that we have not for the most part even started to consider it. Underlying it all is a less materialistic, more spiritual existence so that harming each other or the planet is as nonsensical as continuing to place your hand on a hot stove. We cannot solve our issues from the level of consciousness that has caused them.

  • Laurence Cox 15th Oct '19 - 1:04pm

    What concerns me about Extinction Rebellion is that they are now proposing to disrupt the Tube:

    even though the London Mayor has, for several years been working to power the Tube by green electricity:

    It seems to me that they have completely lost the plot.

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