Burning the future

:: politics, doomed, climate

Whatever you think about brexit, there is something which matters more. And brexit is not compatible with that thing.

Boris Johnson is lying when he says he will ‘get brexit done’: it’s always been obvious that brexit will take years. The much-trumpeted deal — if the UK leaves with a deal — covers only a small proportion of what needs to be done as the UK leaves the EU. After the UK leaves it needs to sort out not only what its future relationship will be with the EU but also all the other relationships it has not had to address independently for more than a generation. This is lot of work.

Well: this would be a lot of work if the UK had recent experience of conducting such negotiations on its own behalf. It doesn’t, as it has been able to rely on being part of the EU for a very long time. Everyone who knew how to do this in the UK has retired or died. This has become very apparent over the time since the referendum, as the UK has made a laughing stock of itself in the most public way possible. Indeed, some people seem to have forgotten even that negotiating complicated deals is hard: Liam Fox famously said that

The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history.

If we assume he was not just lying or bullshitting then his ignorance is fairly astonishing: he was the secretary of state for international trade at the time, and clearly just had no idea of the effort involved. There are really only two choices here: either he was hugely incompetent to do his job, or he was lying.

So the negotiations will not be a lot of work: they will be an overwhelming amount of work as the entire organisation in the UK has to relearn skills it has forgotten, all while negotiating in many cases with larger entities with current experience, such as the EU.

The end result of this is that brexit is going to take essentially all of the available resources of the UK government and civil service for many years: conservatively a decade. During that time a lot of other things which need to be done simply won’t happen. In fact, that’s something like the best case: anyone who has ever done a job which is really several jobs knows what can happen when the load of things to do becomes so overwhelming that even working out what to do next becomes impossible. When that happens everything just collapses, and essentially nothing gets done. That can happen to organisations as well, and it’s equally bad: the term for this in extreme cases is ‘failed state’.

This will all be particularly bad if there is some important task which can’t wait: something which needs to be done in the next decade, if it is to be done at all.

There is. We have about a decade (perhaps rather less, perhaps a little more) to start dealing with anthropogenic climate change in a really serious way. The IPCC special report Global Warming of 1.5ºC makes this very clear, and in particular it is easy to play with the interactive figure, which lets you explore how the future temperature increase depends on the year that net-zero emissions is reached. That figure, in fact, is interestingly optimistic: the very worst case it allows is for net-zero emissions to be reached in 2100. Currently there is no real indication that net-zero will be reached at all.

Dealing with climate change, if it’s to be done at all, will need a huge, international effort, and brexit means that the UK will play essentially no part in that effort.

At this point you probably expect a huge section on why anthropogenic climate change is in fact a real thing. But, really, I can’t be bothered writing that: if you don’t believe in climate change then you should just do some reading and stop listening to people who are being paid to lie to you by the oil companies. The truth is out there, but it does not involve aliens.

So, well, OK, what about the people who know it’s a real problem but still don’t bother, because they think that brexit, or having a nice new car, or their next holiday, or, really, anything, is more important? People like everyone’s favourite clown prince, Boris Johnson, who didn’t bother turning up to a debate on it and then threatened the organisation holding the debate. I don’t know, perhaps he’s just a coward and was too frightened to face the other party leaders. But I don’t think it was just that: I think that he and his party just don’t care about climate change. Getting rid of nasty foreigners and bringing back the glorious British empire (which, of course, will be run by the English, lead by the great Boris before whom all will kneel) is just much more important to him than his children’s future. And this is the case for lots of people: climate change is this slow thing which doesn’t really matter much now and by the time it does matter, well, that’s a long way away and someone else will deal with it and who really cares about their children anyway?

And that’s the thing: if you don’t care about climate change, what you really mean is that you do not care about your own children’s future. If you think brexit is more important than climate change then you are burning your own children’s lives on a fire you have built specially for the purpose.

If you think that brexit and dealing with climate change are compatible then you’re naïve: if you think that brexit is more important than climate change then fuck you.

Brexit or your children’s future: pick one.