I spent last weekend in Merseyside, visiting parents and in laws. We left Sussex on Thursday which felt warm for the time of year and when we arrived in the North West there was a distinct reduction in temperature compared to the start of our journey. However a day or two later when delegates for the Conservative Party conference arrived in Manchester, the weather in the North West was as balmy as Sussex had been a few days earlier. As we travelled back South on Sunday, the temperature was clearly lower in the South than it had been in the North West a few hours before. What we had experienced was not global warming, or even North Western warming in the way in which that phrase is used by environmental scientists or even climate change deniers.
The arrival in Manchester for those attending the conference was not a holiday despite my tongue in cheek comments about Katy Bourne yesterday. The Cabinet Ministers were barely off the train from the South, before they held their first fringe meeting. That includes Owen Paterson Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who is MP for Shropshire. His meeting on Sunday night was organised by the RSPB who asked Owen Paterson if the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report proved that the climate is “broken”, he is reported to have said: “People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for
centuries … Remember that for humans, the biggest cause of death is cold in winter, far
bigger than heat in summer. It would also lead to longer growing seasons and you
could extend growing a little further north into some of the colder areas.”
The advantage of seeing things from a limited viewing place such as my comments about Merseyside and Sussex is that the wider issues, no matter how difficult can be conveniently ignored. That is as true of the environment as it is of wars and poverty. Owen Paterson was born and brought up in Shropshire where as he recently told Radio 4 listeners he kept badgers. He attended Schools in nearby Worcester and then Oxfordshire and then across the country to Cambridge. He is now MP for Shropshire. As someone who was born and brought up in Merseyside, I can confirm that the inland parts of the North West could cope with a degree or two extra across the year on a sustainable basis. However climate change is not a parochial matter that is focused on narrow tracts of an Island in the Northern hemisphere. A few miles to the West of the Conservative Party in debate this week is a beach close to my childhood home of Crosby. It is now famous for the impact of 100 casts of Anthony Gormley, known as Another Place. However when I was growing up, it was known as ‘the erosion’ because of the money that had been spent on defences installed to prevent the tidal stretches of the River Mersey from washing the land away. A rise in the Sea Level even in Merseyside would be inconvenient, however in some nations it would destroy many homes and Millions of Acres of land currently used to produce food. This means that Internationally not only would food supplies be cut off by global warming, but Millions of people would be displaced from their homes, leading to immigration problems on an unprecedented scale. As Sir David King said in 2004 “Climate change is a far greater threat to the world than international terrorism” Based on this weeks meeting it seems clear that Owen Paterson is out of his depth. We need someone at the head of DEFRA who is capable of understanding why global warming is something that is a great deal more significant than growing crops in Scotland. Perhaps Owen should go back to his badgers.