The Social and Legal Aspects of Climate Change
Edited by Anna Grear and Conor Gearty
Chapter 1: Choosing a future: the social and legal aspects of climate change
It is increasingly clear that anthropogenic climate change is a real and destructive phenomenon. Glimpses of this reality are everywhere and ever more numerous. Extreme weather events, in particular, resonate strongly through the public psyche, carried by viral media images: devastation in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Hayan; the haunting white grip of the _50C ice vortex in the United States of America; extreme heat and bushfires in Australia; extensive flooding in the United Kingdom. Such events – just this year alone – and the human stories emerging from the statistics of tragedy speak directly of the human and environmental effects of climate change. Some of the social impacts of such events are obvious – others less so. Not everyone watching the news coverage of the United Kingdom flooding this European winter will be aware, for example, of the fields full of dead badgers and raw sewage or of rats invading homes to escape newly submerged sewers – or of the complex ecosystem implications for crops, planned production patterns, economic futures, legal and regulatory responses and other numerous – and not always predictable – outcomes. Nor will everyone be aware of the complex social impacts of such events: on the one hand, communities uniting to help one another, on the other hand, looting, predation and fear. What all such events make clear are two things: first, there is no longer any rational room for doubt that climate change is happening or that it now also effects even the thus far relatively comfortable countries of the global North. The real issue is what the global community, and individuals and communities wherever they are, should now be doing in response. Second, the vast majority of individuals and communities, particularly in the Greenhouse Gas emitting nations, have a choice as to what to do – both with respect to mitigation and adaptation. The choice is between business as usual and a radical, eco-responsible change of direction.
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