Last month, Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, gave a speech about “climate security” (full text on DECC site)
Climate change is about increased risk: of extreme events, of natural disasters, of changes in weather patterns.
As our understanding of the climate grows, so does our understanding of what those risks might mean for our people.
Around the world, governments – and militaries – are planning for climate instability. From flood defences to foreign aid, climate security is part of the policy discussion.
But it’s not yet part of the public discussion.
And that’s something that we have to change.
We need to get people to engage with climate security; to understand what it means to be climate resilient in an interdependent world. Because at the moment, it’s too easy to discount the danger.
I’m all for getting the public more engaged with issues of climate change, but I’m also a bit sceptical about this move towards dubbing environmental policy issues matters of security. It’s not just climate. Everything seems to be about security these days: food, energy. I can see the advantages to this sort of framing, but I can also see downsides too. Maybe I’m wrong though, I’d be interested to hear what others think.
The term security feels, for me, a bit too focused on keeping things as they are, rather than questioning if it’s really what we should be doing in the first place. For example, someone asked me if I thought the badger cull counted as “food security”; it is supposed to be about protecting beef and dairy stock after all. I’d be appalled if tried to frame it as “food security” though. Even momentarily putting aside the large question mark over whether killing badgers will protect cows, I really doubt badgers are putting our ability to feed ourselves at risk, only parts of our economy, which is meaningful and terrible for many people involved, granted, but isn’t quite something I’d dub “food security”. In fact, I’m surprised more people aren’t using the badger cull to pose larger questions around the industrialisation of cows. There are all sorts of policies, technologies and cultural practises around food production that could be done differently, if we wanted to. Similarly, I worry that the frame of climate and energy security may be over used to quieten debate about how we currently use our natural resources.
Maybe I’m wrong though. As I said, I’d be interested to hear what others think.
Something I am more sure about is my disagreement with a line near the end of Davey’s speech, where he said we’d “proven ourselves equal to the challenge” for other global threats like nuclear war. Really? We’re all sorted on that one? You sure? Because last time I checked, the Cuban Missile Crisis was a while back, but we’re still spending a shed load of money on Trident. Being in a slightly playfully indigent mood, I put £134,565 (wage of a cabinet minister) into a “Where does my tax go?” interactive and it popped up with just under £9 a day on defence and a bit under £2.50 on the environment*. CND has a little viz to show ‘how many cuts does it take to pay for Trident’, if you like these sorts of things. Do keep your eye on the top left hand corner for the rolling red text letting you know how much the UK spent on nuclear weapons since you opened the page.
You can decide for yourself whether you think nuclear weapons are a good or bad thing. Personally, I’ve never been entirely 100% sure about my own stance on this. But don’t for a moment think they’ve gone away. If Davey feels there is added urgency now to finally really try to engage the UK public with “climate security”, I wonder if he could find some funds freed up for such important work in disarmament. I’m inclined to think we’ve got enough environmental “security” issues happening in the seas around Scotland right now without keeping a nuclear bomb there too.
* These are vague because the Telegraph tool wouldn’t let me put a specific figure in. I set it at an annual salary of £134,650 and got £8.97/day on defence and £2.46/day on the environment. If you want details of cabinet pay on the House of Commons FAQs (along with the PM, select committee heads and other non-pay related facts). You can find average pay of everyone else at the Office for National Statistics.