So much is going on in British politics that the political realm itself frequently gathers more interest than the UK entertainment industry. The great stories and dramas that really matter – Ukraine, poverty, immigration, the European Union, and the demise of British democracy – are repeatedly overshadowed by the lunacy of PM Boris Johnson’s final days.
This is likely why only 70 MPs and peers showed up at parliament’s emergency climate briefing. That might seem acceptable, except that 650 MPs and over 700 peers are active in the British government. The island kingdom is more involved in its political drama than its responsibilities. Johnson is the central figure, but numerous others are jockeying to take his place.
Yet, listen to the Boris Johnson of only a few months ago, after listening to the latest environmental findings at the UN summit in Glasgow, Scotland. He told reporters that it prompted “a road to Damascus” moment for him. “I got the government scientists to run through it all … It’s very hard to dispute. This was a very important moment for me.”
Where is that Boris Johnson now? After spending months fighting for his political survival, and now in his last days at 10 Downing Street, there is no sign of the “moment” he was talking about.
The 70 politicians who did show up heard that things are now worse since the Glasgow summit. It’s been three years since the British parliament declared a climate emergency. Still, little has changed, and the scandal-ridden Conservative party believes it has a much more dire emergency on its hands: not the planet’s survival but its own.
With all the unprecedented challenges facing today’s world, nothing compares to the ravages of climate change. The argument as to whether the coming disaster is caused by human activity has now been eclipsed by the ongoing string of climate emergencies that plague every part of the globe. Despite this, one of the world’s great governments could only muster a few dozen politicians for a climate briefing.
The melting of glaciers, droughts, floods, forest fires, rising ocean levels, dwindling freshwater supplies, the increasing extinction of species, the rapid loss of biodiversity – all these are happening at the same time and are more significant in impact than at any other period in our collective lifetime. Somehow, trucker convoys, Donald Trump rampages, the costs of food and fuel, and the caricature nature of politics have become our fixation.
Western leaders talk a good line regarding the planet but increasing numbers of less affluent nations don’t believe the words. Democracy has become the world’s great stage, and political leaders are merely its players – not seasoned, educated visionaries of conviction and principle. Today’s leaders have more in common with themselves than with the millions they are supposed to govern. They embrace at global conferences, trade anecdotes, gossip about their peers, and ultimately make promises that somehow rarely come to fruition.
This is just how it is, despite all the promises that say otherwise. Canada is faring better than most, and that says something to our credit about our politics and civil service. Yet when it comes to climate change, we are the fifth worst polluter in the world, and the recently touted budgets of both provincial and federal governments are deemed insufficient to meet this country’s climate goals.
We are all to blame – governments, citizens, bureaucrats, businesses, special interests – and we seem unable to rise above our daily concerns to care for tomorrow’s outcomes. Our future awaits us, and we are not reconciled to it. Our politics is more manic than meaningful, and our citizenship more angry than aspirational. Politics has become our primary source of entertainment, leaving us to become mere watchers and political junkies, easily overcome by the climate change forces already among us.