Is the world’s green consensus going dark?

A loud noise and Chomsky talks: Cli-fi is now in line with cli-fact

Welcome to the latest instalment of This Week, Those Books, your rundown on books new and old that resonate with the week’s news and developments.

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July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth; extreme heat waves occurred in the American southwest, Mexico, southern Europe and China; India swung from sizzling heat to disproportionately heavy rainfall which caused floods; wildfires raged in Canada, darkening the skies over the US east coast with their fumy breath. Unseasonable weather has sent the price of tomatoes soaring more than 400% in India and caused a shortage of Sriracha hot sauce, the iconic condiment created in the US using peppers from the recently drought-hit American southwest and Mexico.

So, three of the world’s biggest carbon dioxide polluters – China, the US, India (in that order) – had an extreme month. The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, says it is a new era – one of “global boiling”.

A global problem needs a global solution and the green shoots of a  consensus have been emerging since the 2015 Paris pact, the world’s first treaty on climate change. Now, the US is throwing big bucks at renewable energy, as is Europe; China is building solar capacity and Africa is talking sustainable building materials, etc.

But green is also the colour of a sharp new dividing line, in geopolitics and domestic politics around the world. Consider this:

  • The green consensus forged in the UK, the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency in 2019, is under political threat. Ahead of a tough general election next year for his Conservative Party, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has declared he’s on the side of motorists and announced the auction of hundreds of new oil and gas drilling licenses in a new push for fossil fuel-based energy security. The move to play dirty politics with green policy could backfire. An Ipsos survey says eight in 10 Britons are concerned about climate change.
  • In the US, none of the 11 major Republican Party candidates for president is talking about green initiatives; one of them, biotech billionaire Vivek Ramaswamy, is calling for America to “abandon the climate cult” altogether. However, a Pew Research Center study found that large majorities of Americans want to prioritise climate change policies but not the phasing out of fossil fuels.
  • China reportedly obstructed G20 climate negotiations held late last month in Chennai in India. Beijing is said to have argued the G20 is an economic forum and not the venue for climate change policy. The G20 meetings are meant to prepare the ground for the UN’s COP28 climate summit in the UAE later this year. A 2023 academic paper says the Chinese people want to address climate change.

So, could the Chinese government lead the world in putting the green juggernaut in reverse gear? Could Western politicians deal a fatal blow to the emerging green consensus by making it yet another front in their domestic culture wars? It’s not a given. Cli-fi is now increasingly in line with cli-fact.

Dear Reader, this week reminds me of those books:

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