The climate issue
Climate change touches everything this newspaper reports on. It must be tackled urgently and clear-headedly
From one year to the next, you cannot feel the difference. As the decades stack up, though, the story becomes clear. The stripes on our cover represent the world’s average temperature in every year since the mid-19th century. Dark blue years are cooler and red ones warmer than the average in 1971-2000. The cumulative change jumps out. The world is about 1℃ hotter than when this newspaper was young. To represent this span of human history as a set of simple stripes may seem reductive. These are years which saw world wars, technological innovation, trade on an unprecedented scale and a staggering creation of wealth. But those complex histories and the simplifying stripes share a common cause. The changing climate of the planet and the remarkable growth in human numbers and riches both stem from the combustion of billions of tonnes of fossil fuel to produce industrial power, electricity, transport, heating and, more recently, computation.
All around us
That the changing climate touches everything and everyone should be obvious—as it should be that the poor and marginalised have most to lose when the weather turns against them. What is less obvious, but just as important, is that, because the processes that force climate change are built into the foundations of the world economy and of geopolitics, measures to check climate change have to be similarly wide-ranging and all-encompassing. To decarbonise an economy is not a simple subtraction; it requires a near-complete overhaul.
To some—including many of the millions of young idealists who, as The Economist went to press, were preparing for a global climate strike, and many of those who will throng the streets of New York during next week’s un General Assembly—this overhaul requires nothing less than the gelding or uprooting of capitalism. After all, the system grew up through the use of fossil fuels in ever-greater quantities. And the market economy has so far done very little to help. Almost half the atmosphere’s extra, human- made carbon dioxide was put there after the turn of the 1990s, when scientists sounded the alarm and governments said they would act.