Chasing the young vote:  from lack of concern over carbon emissions to crisis in just two months

Janet Downs's picture

What a difference a couple of months makes.  On 28 February the Commons debated net zero carbon emissions.  Few MPs attended.  The Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove wasn’t there.  Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t there.  If they popped in, they didn’t speak.

But on 2 May a crowded Commons debated the environment and climate change.  Corbyn made a passionate speech in favour of declaring a climate emergency – a topic which he didn’t appear to view as much of a crisis two months earlier.  But neither did most MPs.

Gove was equally passionate.

MPs fell over themselves to show green credentials.  MPs congratulated Gove, Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Environment Secretary, Michael Howard, North Kesteven District Council.. and on and on…’

Ed Milliband, former SoS for Energy and Climate Change, received an honourable mention by Gove for the Climate Change 2008 Act which, Gove said, had cross-party support.  We don’t know what Gove’s position was – he was absent.  And statistics show Gove’s been rather lukewarm about climate change issues.

Gove also invoked the ghost of Thatcher.  She was the first world politician ‘to make it clear that climate change was an emergency,’ he said.  This tribute was echoed by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Both forgot, and no-one reminded them, that Thatcher had later recanted and became a climate change sceptic. 

What, then, has changed from seeming indifference at the end of February to fervour in just a few weeks?  A cynic might say it’s chasing the young vote.

Climate change is something young people are passionate about.  From strikes by school children to Extinction Rebellion via Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, young people are making their voices heard.  It follows, then, that donning a green cloak could entice the next generation of voters.

Michael Gove, in particular, seems to swivel from one point of view to another.  As education secretary, he deplored pupils having time off school.  But when school children took to the streets he appeared to have changed his mind.  He addressed school climate strikers:

Collective action of the kind you are championing can make a difference, and a profound one... together we can beat climate change.’

When he met with Extinction Rebellion he’d lost enthusiasm for such tactics. He ‘shared their high ideals’ but was ‘not a fan of direct action’.

A cynic might say that Gove is positioning himself as future PM: that sharing the ‘high ideals’ of Extinction Rebellion might obliterate the memory of his being sacked as education secretary when he became ‘toxic’ and for his stab at the leadership after betraying Boris.

Private Eye (3 May) says Gove told Greta Thunberg he feels ‘responsibility and guilt’ for not having done ‘nearly enough to address climate change’.  But, as Caroline Lucas said, ‘It’s not enough for him to feel guilty.’   His ‘honeyed words’ need to be backed by action.


CORRECTION 4 May 2019 08.47:  The original article said Corbyn hadn't seemed sufficiently interested in the climate change issue to attend a debate on net zero carbon emissions  'two weeks' earlier.  It should have read 'two months'.  Apologies.  This has now been put right.

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agov's picture
Sat, 04/05/2019 - 09:54

"Climate change is something young people are passionate about."

This week (for some at least), yes. Not long ago it was 'Oh Jeremy Corbyn' but they soon got bored with that as the fashion changed. Who knows what next week will bring. In the 70s the idiot Left were convinced 'the young' were the future i.e. Labour voters. As I recall that was just before many of them became confirmed Thatcherites.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 04/05/2019 - 12:28

agov -  I agree with you about support for issues declining when fashions change but only up to a point.  It would have been more accurate to write 'some young people are passionate about...'   It's likely that many of the school climate protesters were welcoming a chance to bunk off school while claiming it's for the greater good.  And the strikes will stop during the hols (obviously) and when the weather gets cold.  But although it's the young making the most noise (hence the sudden interest), the Greens have been highlighting environmental degradation for decades.  But they weren't getting many votes so the issue could be downplayed as it didn't attract votes.

Cameron was keen on the greenest government ever.  Just a sound bite meant to appeal to voters. 

Matthew Bennett's picture
Sat, 04/05/2019 - 19:50

This piece by Paul Rogers is a good summary of the Coalition's approach to climate change.

Theresa May abolished the Dept. of Energy and Climate Change soon after becoming PM.

Gove is one of Murdoch's creatures -- in other words, a professional liar.



John Mountford's picture
Sun, 05/05/2019 - 20:13

Anyone who is confused about how willing the young people are to keep the pressure on the adult section of society because they now actually understand just how much we have failed them, will be getting a much needed wake-up call. Their desire to have a viable future will not wane. It must not wane. It may well be that the school hols or some other temporary diversion will punctuate their campaign's progress. I don't think any adult has earned the right to criticise their efforts if their enthusiasm fluctuates on occasions. After all, world leaders, never held to account by our generation, consistently chose to ignore the warnings that began appearing in earnest in the middle of the last century. Our stupid indifference almost cost us the protection of the ozone layer and, actually Margaret Thatcher did support the decision to call for a global halt to the production of CFC's at a conference in London in 1989.

With our half hearted bumbling we have sold out future generations for our comfortable lives. No difficult choices for us! Leave it to someone else! It's late in the day. Now only foolish people like Donald the Trump seriously deny the world is warming . It has been happening since the start of the industrial revolution. The accumulation of greenhouse gasses has reached such concentrations that we have succeeded in changing the atmosphere. How many more warnings do we need before we conclude that we are truly running out of time? The young may not keep assiduously to the task of giving world leaders a thoroughly uncomfortable time because they are systematically failing to act more responsibly. It is my personal belief, however, they have nowhere to go but the future and they now understand that doesn't look quite as cosy as it should for them. It is our responsibility, if they tire from time to time, to be there reminding them and doing all we can to ensure we pay for our folly in putting off the changes we knew were necessary half a century ago.

agov's picture
Mon, 06/05/2019 - 09:53

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 06/05/2019 - 11:25

John - it's not quite true that politicians have never done anything.  The Montreal Protocol 1987 did much to reduce the emission of carbon producing chemicals.  But it's equally true that politicians, especially when faced with lobbying from vested interests, have ignored environmental problems.  Some (eg Trump) have even dismissed them for short-term gain.

 Whether the protesters keep faith or not is irrelevant to my argument.  Two months ago, MPs appeared indifferent.  The debate discussing UK progress towards zero carbon emissions attracted few MPs.  A rough count revealed:

17 Labour (Corbyn appeared to be absent)

13 Conservatives (Gove didn't appear to be there)

5 Lib Dems

4 Lab/Co-op



1 Green (note: there's only one Green MP)

This indifference has changed to fervour..  But will this new-found enthusiasm for green issues amount to no more than just words to attract votes?  For example, the most recent Private Eye said Gove had promised to deliver a 'Green Brexit' but was rather vague about how this would actually be achieved.

Sadly, not all young people care so much about the environment.  13-year-old Nadia Sparkes, nicknamed 'Trash Girl', had to move school after being bullied for picking up litter.


John Mountford's picture
Mon, 06/05/2019 - 22:31

My point, Janet, was not "that politicians have never done anything". I did not in fact use those words. Let it be clear what I am saying by repeating it. They are "systematically failing to act more responsibly." That said, however, I am adamant they have consistently never done enough to tackle a problem with global implications that was clearly identified long ago. They have made the wrong decisions more often than not. Were this not so, we would not now be facing the climate crisis that most of us accept we are. The reason for the current predicament is the ability, power and determination of lobbyists to push their agenda at the expense of other concerns and the failure of leaders to reject these pressures when the greater interest should be uppermost. This is why it is so important, in spite of agov's rude response, to understand that as we have failed to make the world a more secure place for future generations because we were more occupied with ensuring that we are okay, it is our time to act more responsibly.

We need the drive and vitality of the young to demand the necessary changes. Our political leaders need constantly reminding that the issues at stake are far too important to be left to chance, or forfeited to commercial or political advancement. The issues need to be seen in a broader context. We need to do our bit to ensure that the reminders from the youth of our world keep coming. They will only have a future if they keep up the pressure. Today's environmental report about a pending ecological disaster, threatening planet wide biodiversity, should help remind us that humans have made their mark on nature for all the wrong reasons. If we want this to change we have to act now across the generations. If politicians need to be made to stick to the task in hand, this is what needs to be done.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 07/05/2019 - 09:38

John - sorry, I failed to differentiate between what some of the protesters were saying and what you said.  Some of the protesters fail to give credit to such things as the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Accord of blame all of the older generation for the present predicament (this rather needles those middle-aged and oldies who've tried to lessen their environmental impact since before the young generation were born).

That said, politicians too often make favourable noises and don't follow through on their often rather vague promises, (Remember Cameron's 'greenest government ever').  And you're absolutely right about lobbying by vested interests.  

agov's picture
Tue, 07/05/2019 - 11:32

"so important"

Hope you kept cosy over the sultry Bank Holiday. As Mr Corbyn (- the smart one) says, it may not last for ever -

But perhaps he doesn't realize it is wrongthought not to rely on the BBC and a smattering of PGCE science stuff.

As also not reported on the BBC -

And then there's this -

amongst much else.

It's as if the fascist Left had decided that the 'best way to arrive at the truth is to create an intellectual orthodoxy and silence or fire anyone who disagrees.'

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 07/05/2019 - 21:30

Mr Corbin has a strange idea about galaxies considering, among other things, he is an astrophysicist. On the composition of galaxies he says, "the size of most galaxies are all about the same." (Youtube) That could not be further from the case.

Dr Willie Soon's association with Heartland Organisation is an interesting one. He is however a very funny man.

There is no doubt that some weather recording stations around the world have been sited very poorly. They will contribute little, however to the word wide collection of data. It is also the case that measuring the temperature of the earth is not a simple process. However, it is not rocket science and in order to amass the amount of data required to produce a clear picture of what is happening, hundreds of different sources need to be collated. To believe that all the scientists involved are part of a conspiracy is maybe a little far fetched. "To get a complete picture of Earth’s temperature, scientists combine measurements from the air above land and the ocean surface collected by ships, buoys and sometimes satellites, too."

There is a very broad consensus that the earth is warming at a rate that should alarm us. That human activity is contributing to this is also widely accepted. Naturally there are those who choose not to accept any of this. It is a challenge to know what to accept but the risk of ignoring the threat may not be prudent. Most certainly, due diligence is called for on all counts.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/05/2019 - 09:47

agov: Re the BBC - didn't they interview climate change sceptic Lord Lawson?  I don't remember the BBC attacking him for 'wrongthought'.  The opposite was the case: the BBC defended its interview.  It was later criticised by Ofcom for allowing him to spout inaccurate information.


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/05/2019 - 09:49

Readers might be interested in yesterday's Times comment piece by Melanie Phillips (behind paywall) in which she describes climate change theories as 'nonsense'.  She replied to a comment I made about conserving the environment and suggested I read some evidence she provided.  This was my reply:  

'Thank you for replying. I did what you said and read 'Thoughts on the Public Discourse on Climate Change' by Richard Lindzen of MIT. He supports your argument that climate change, in his words, is supported by 'sophistry and even downright dishonesty'. But he didn't suggest it was an attack on capitalism and progress. That's your spin.'

'On the opposite side to Linzen are 22 MIT professors who wrote to Trump saying they didn't support his view.'  

'So where does the evidence take us? Trawling the internet can find arguments for both climate change and climate denial. It's tempting to say 'a plague on both your houses'. But that't not helpful. Human activity has degraded much of our environment not conserved it. That's worth tackling irrespective of whether you think such action is a left-wing conspiracy or not.'

John Mountford's picture
Wed, 08/05/2019 - 15:18

Janet, the whole point of some leaders (eg Trump), individuals (eg agov) academics (eg Piers Corbyn) and others attacking climate change campaigners is their desire to confuse people with limited time to dig deep to get at the truth behind the headlines. The thing those who may have difficulty sorting the wheat from the chaff on this particular question, is to remember that whereas there may be a minority of researchers willing to compromise their own professionalism to manipulate the 'facts', either pro or con, most would not and do not. With that said, the volume of data emerging from many wide-ranging studies and sources is pointing to one conclusion - the composition of the climate has changed over the last one hundred and fifty years since we have been monitoring it closely. The impact of this change is to intensify the greenhouse effect.

Just take a report today The report, by the Arctic Council, reveals the extent of Arctic ice loss. It does this every two years under its remit for monitoring this area of the globe. A reading of its latest announcement will confirm that concerns over the shrinking ice-cap are increasing. Recorded temperatures there are increasing at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

Now a sceptic could argue, as some will no doubt, even on this blog, that this conclusion is wrong. The intervention of the USA, wishing to edit the findings of the report under US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to actually welcome the melting of the Arctic sea ice for commercial reasons, is an interesting one. What should we make of his interpretation of the data? The answer lies in the statement he makes in support of the US action. He refuses to support the report's conclusions, instead insisting "Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade," This, from Trump's own man, helps us understand the reasoning being applied. The attack on the findings is not related to their accuracy. Mr Pompeo is not challenging the facts. The ice is melting. Instead of this presenting a problem, the changes are seen as an opportunity to expand trade in the future.

So it is fairly clear, the conclusion we reach, as in this case, are usually influenced by our perceptions, values and attitudes. Willingness to adapt as more information becomes available is important. This applies equally to all in the great climate debate. As an example, communities at sea level along parts of the eastern seaboard of the US are already having to adjust to sea level changes. If the Arctic ice continues to disappear sea level rises will become more of a threat in this part of the world. Climate change deniers offer no alternative to warming of the atmosphere to explain the loss of the Arctic sea ice. If they ever do, we should give it serious consideration.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 09/05/2019 - 09:27

I'm playing devil's advocate here but the argument from the likes of Melanie Phillips is that climate change (if it exists) does not constitue an impending apocalypse caused by human activity (anthropogenic, or some such, Phillips called it).  It follows, then, that there's no need to bother about cutting emissions from burning fossil fuels and similar actions because it's all a socialist plot to impose radical changes (Phillips called it rolling back 'progress).

But even if their argument is true (apart from the conspiracy theory about left-wing plots), there's a pressing need to tackle obvious problems now.  Yesterday, we heard about species loss; today it's rising sea levels and increased risk of flooding.   These need dealing with now irrespective of whether it would prevent climate change or not.  Even Gove says our soil will be depleted in thirty years.



Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 09/05/2019 - 09:28

I watched the paper review last night.  Andrew Pierce (I think), deputy editor Daily Mail, and Kevin McGuire, editor of the Mirror, were debating climate change.  Debating is perhaps the wrong word because Pierce (if it was him) kept interrupring McGuire, rolling his eyes and eventually saying, 'You'll be dead in 2080'.  In other words, don't worry about it, it's all rubbish anyway.   That's why I said on another thread that necessary action to tackle environmental problems (including excessive Co2 emissions) should be viewed holistically (not just as reducing Co2 emissions) promoted as a necessity now and not because it might stave off impending catastrophe.  The latter is too easily mocked as hysteria from doom sayers or a socialist plot.  And protesters who advocate living like we did the 40s (as one did in the Times) or destroying capitalism entirely do their cause no favours.

And yesterday on Radio 4, Thinking Aloud discussed the spread of conspiracy theories such as the world being governed by a secretive (usually Jewish) elite, anti-vaccination, a muslim plot to eradicate western civilisation by immigration and 'climate change is a hoax'.  Worth a listen.   

agov's picture
Sat, 11/05/2019 - 12:57

(Sorry but sometimes I have actual school work to keep me away, but just to quickly comment -)

As Corbyn is an astrophysicist perhaps it depends on what he meant by 'most' or the exact context of what the remark was addressing.

Given that throughout higher education these days expressing non-approved views can be career threatening (- a group to defend those expressing pro-Brexit views was required, so it is hardly surprising that one for climate truth may be needed); and that no platforming is commonplace (- it seems that so-called Labour MP Naz Shah recently pulled out of a debate at Oxford about no platforming because another invitee had not been no platformed); and hysteria that anyone might get a bit stressed and need a 'safe space' to recover from hearing something they didn't like, it is hardly surprising that someone with a contrary view might not be speaking courtesy of Momentum.

Not neccessarily 'all' scientists - that discredited UN IPCC 'report'claimed to be scientific but some of those cited said they had disagreed with the required (and obviously predetermined) outcome. I'll make a point of letting you know next time something of the sort occurs.

There was a 'consensus' (- not that that has anything to do with science) about surface temperature measurements despite it long beeing obviously false but only now has it been officially admitted.

Soon the earth may have warmed so that a fleet can be sent from Germany round the top of Russia to Japan. After all, Hitler did it before it got a bit colder again.

Lawson was interviewed about a Lord's report from a committee he chaired (and much outraged hysteria from the far Left ensued: then, as you say, he got no platformed). He was not interviewed as a scientist. I have already referred to a description of how the BBC broadcasts allowed opinions and suppresses others.

"the whole point of some" etc. A smear and a lie but if that's what you like.

Today brings news that ships might spray water into the sky above the arctic to reflect that melting sunlight! Must be true, it was on the BBC.

McGuire spends much of his time on those paper reviews tapping the desk, pulling faces, rolling his eyes and generally interrupting Pierce. If Pierce gave him a very little of his own medicine, well boo hoo.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 11/05/2019 - 13:44

agov - 'Today brings news that ships might spray water into the sky above the arctic to reflect that melting sunlight! Must be true, it was on the BBC.'   Cue eye-rolling and guffaws.

But that's not quite what the BBC and others (including the Mail) said.  They reported that a Cambridge Uni centre (yet to be built) would look at 'geoengineering' ways to fight climate change which could include spraying salt water into the sky.  The ideas are just that - ideas which could be rejected as implausible. 



agov's picture
Sun, 12/05/2019 - 13:38

Correct, Janet. The report was as you say - ships might (as in might) go water spraying.

Just in case anyone should read your reply and not my original, the reference to 'guffaws' (not a word I think I have ever used) was your comment and not my original.

What I did not make explicit or properly was that although that particular idea might seem outlandish it is nonetheless an attempt to suggest a technological solution (assuming any current warming/cooling is ever actually established to be something other than the norm as dictated by nature - someone remind when that moment was when the planet's climate was not changing) implying that there might still be some rare bits of academia that could possibly be taken seriously, so no need for 'solutions' that have more to do with wrecking the economy; imposing rigid control over allowed speech; and imposing the fascist dictatorship of the far Left via their replacement Marxism. Incidentally, I do remember that decades ago it was suggested we put giant reflecting mirrors into orbit to reflect that light stuff from the sun - think they nicked the idea from science fiction books current at the time (but no harm in that).

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 13/05/2019 - 10:21

agov - one of the Extinction Rebellion protesters said technology would come to the rescue, like the cavalry.  The eye-rolling was from me.  

As I said earlier, focussing on climate change diverts attention from other problems.  That's irrespective of whether I'm convinced climate change is happening.  I believe it is, and I think human activity is making it worse but some may be naturall.    That said, I think it's sensible to take action to tackle all problems that face us: rising sea levels, flooding, food security, soil depletion, pollution, waste...  If doing this reduces man-made contribution to climate change, all well and good.  But just in case it doesn't, we should be better placed to cope with whatever nature throws at us.


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 13/05/2019 - 10:34

agove - I know that some of Extinction Rebellion shrieked about destroying capitalism but such views are extreme.  I don't accept the conspiracy theory that climate change is a left wing plot to impose Marxism.  That argument, I believe, is being used by vested interests who want the world to keep using fossil fuels, polluting vehicles and agricultural practices (eg overuse of insecticides, fertilisers and herbicides) because selling them is profitable.   

Whatever one's opinion on climate, there's no doubt that politicians are falling over themselves to present their green credentials.

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