Stephen Schneider was a dude. We could really do with him about now.
Stephen Schneider died on Monday. In a rational world his passing would have led the news bulletins, and statements from world leaders and community leaders would have poured in. For Schneider was one of the giants of climate science, one of the first to warn us that we were – and I quote from a 1979 interview now available on youtube – “insulting our global environment at a faster rate than we are understanding it.” Schneider’s work covered the ‘hard sciences’ but also the way science
and politics and science and the media rubbed up against each other. While mourning his loss, we can only honour his memory by… teaching elephants to tapdance.
Let me explain. Last December there was a big international meeting in Copenhagen, with dozens and dozens of heads of state. The hope was that they would come up with a Global Deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide. These gases trap heat that would otherwise disappear into space. They are a blanket, like the blanket that anyone listening to this in bed is lying under. The thickness of that blanket of gas has been relatively constant throughout the Earth’s history. By burning oil and coal and gas, we’re increasing the thickness, heating the planet. At Copenhagen, we were supposed to agree to change our ways. But Copenhagen failed, and there’s no sign of a global deal any time soon.
But even if there were a global deal, it would have to be implemented locally, in villages, towns and cities across the world. And implementing it would be hard, at least as hard as teaching an elephant to tapdance. And in the absence of the global deal, cities
need to take action anyway. We need to reduce our emissions because we have moral – and legal- responsibility – especially in Manchester, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution that kick-started this fossil-fuel craze. We need to prepare for the coming changes, which in Manchester include hotter drier summers and warmer wetter winters. One of the ironies is that Manchester will be one of the last to suffer the direct effects of the process it helped to start.
Right now, Manchester City Council is working out how it is going to meet its obligations towards the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan, which was agreed last November. There’s a big meeting coming up on Tuesday November 30 where they will present what they are doing, and hear from the people of Manchester – charities, businesses, tenants and residents associations – what they think about it, and -crucially – what THEY themselves are doing.
Who knows, in twenty years time, we may look back on this meeting in November as the point at which we started to expect more of our local democratic elephant – and of ourselves in civil society, or should I say “Big Society.” It may be the point where we stop our procrastinating and posturing and instead engage with our friends and neighbours, our schools and places of worship, our places of work and of leisure. It may be the point at which we realise that there is no external saviour – no hand of god, no big international meeting or big disaster that “wakes everyone up.” It may be the moment when we realise we are the ones we have been waiting for, we are the people who must pay for the privileges of living in a free society by challenging anti-social behaviour like flying and wasting energy and food, and by keeping the pressure on our local elected leaders to take ‘courageous decisions.’ Or it can be another milestone on the road to hell, paved as it is, with good intentions.
Addendum. Re-reading the comments underneath the “Realclimate” eulogy to Stephen Schneider, I found this–
The mark of a true pioneer is the number of arrows in his back. Stephen kept taking those arrows and never missed step. When the world finally wakes up to the grim realities of man-made climate change, he will be one of those that people will say, ‘Why didn’t we listen to him when we had the chance?”