Opinion: Climate should top everyone’s agenda

East London Humanist Paul Kaufman is concerned about the floods predicted for Newham.

East London Humanist Paul Kaufman is concerned about the floods predicted for Newham. - Credit: Archant

Newham boasts a remarkable emblem of human ingenuity.

It's also a powerful reminder of our frailty. The Thames Barrier was built in the wake of the North Sea Flood which took over 2,000 lives in 1953, 49 on Canvey Island alone. It's just one reminder why climate and the environment should be at the top of everyone's agenda this election, whatever their political persuasion. To quote David Attenborough, "What we do in the next 20 years will determine the future of all life on earth".

The barrier has done a brilliant job protecting Central London. But Met Office Climate Projection figures show sea levels are set to continue to rise. Swathes of London are at risk according to the Environment Agency flood map, including parts of Newham.

But isn't action here futile when China is building power stations and Brazil is burning rain forests? No. We can't expect other countries to play their part unless we do too. In fact China leads the world in solar power installation. It has, whatever its faults, tried to address population growth. And it's easy for us to claim lower emission rates when heavy industry on which we rely mostly takes place abroad. Criticism of Brazil is unconvincing when our country is among the least wooded in Europe. The State of Nature Report (October 2019) warns a quarter of our mammal species face extinction. The 70 UK wildlife agencies responsible describe unabated decline across our wildlife and habitats.

You may find environmental activists annoying, but if your house is in danger of being laid waste a rude awakening might be welcome. Of course we could all do more ourselves to lead environmentally kinder lives, but changing lifestyles is difficult.

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The point is that there is only so much we can do as individuals. The Barrier is a concrete example of far-reaching measures which only Government can realise. It brings home the importance of acting before disaster strikes, and that the environmental policies of the government chosen for the next five years will be crucial long after Brexit is 'sorted.'

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