The real cost of climate change

Is the drive towards Net Zero merely ‘woke’ thinking that is fuelling inflation? It’s a message that could dangerously undermine environmental action and end up costing the Earth.

And so it begins. The backlash against the world’s efforts to ameliorate climate change stepped up a gear in September when Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, declared that, as the Daily Telegraph headline put it, “Net zero obsession has fuelled inflation.” The broadsheet’s clear intention was to present the environmental, sustainable and governance agenda as just another example of the ‘woke’ thinking which infuriates its ageing readership.

It may be that King, having been heavily criticised by a parliamentary committee for his passivity in office during the credit crisis of 2008, now feels obliged to be excessively vigilant in warning about looming disasters. Even so, his claims don’t add up. For a start, the greatest driver of inflation is not net zero policies. Nor is it soaring wages. The biggest cause of rising inflation since 2020, as various bodies (including the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) have identified, has been corporate profits, with large companies increasing prices by much more than the spike in energy costs. Inevitably, this behaviour - which studies suggest could account for almost half of the increase in Europe’s inflation rate - prompted employees to demand wage rises.

The other gaping flaw in this argument is that, certainly since Rishi Sunak became prime minister in October 2022, the British Government has backtracked on many of the pledges it made at the COP climate change summit in Glasgow in the winter of 2021. Once a thought leader in the fight against global warming, the UK is now so far behind the curve that, this summer, the leaders of the country’s largest publicly quoted companies published an open letter calling on the Government to show some consistency and continuity on environmental issues. And they weren’t just saying this because they thought it would be good for the planet, they argued that this was essential if their companies - and therefore, by extension, the British economy - were to prosper in the medium to long-term.

The key to the Telegraph’s counterblast is the use of the emotive adjective ‘obsession’ in its front-page headline, implying that climate change campaigners are deranged. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines obsession as “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling”. Which rather begs the question: is it really unreasonable to be preoccupied by the idea that, within the next decade, Earth’s temperature will have increased so dramatically that millions of people could die from heat waves, famines and infectious diseases?

We don’t even have to look that far ahead to be disturbed and preoccupied by the dangers. At the time of writing, there were 3,091 wildfires raging in the five most badly affected countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mozambique and Indonesia). At the other extreme, autumn flooding had killed people thousands across Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Greece, Hong Kong, Libya, Pakistan, South Korea, Turkey, and the US state of Hawaii.

If King - and the Telegraph’s editors - really wanted to understand why so many people, politicians, campaigners and business leaders are preoccupied by the threat of climate change, they could do worse than visit Phoenix, Arizona, the hottest city in America where, for 54 days this year (out of 253) the temperature has reached, or exceeded, 60C and around 200 people have died from the heat.

The backlash against environmental, sustainability and governance issues may make some businesses pause for thought. It shouldn’t. Companies have to operate in the real world - and not in the world as it is imagined by climate sceptics, professional contrarians and swivel eyed loons. With various analysts debating the likelihood of national, continental or global recession in 2024, big companies may be temporarily less vigilant about environmental issues but, in the medium- to long-term, as the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions becomes ever more catastrophic, they will need to act - or face expensive, distracting, legal action. And many of those who run the kind of smaller businesses that dominate the digital printing industry will be disturbed by the environmental legacy they will leave their children and grandchildren.

The climate change crisis is horrifying but it can still, even at this late stage, be managed - if we take action. There is nothing ‘woke’ about sensible environmental policies. They could help to ensure that Earth remains a planet we can still live on. If a drowning man asks you to throw him a rope, he is not obsessed - he is just trying to save his life. It really is that simple.


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