Our Climate Crisis Paralysis: How, in the Face of Unprecedented Signs of Climate Collapse, We’re Still Being Failed by Politicians, the Media and Ourselves


On the hottest day ever in London, fires broke out at numerous locations, including the village of Wennington, in the London Borough of Havering.

Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.


Last week, as the mercury started to rise in the UK, and sober weather-watchers warned that, for the first time ever, temperatures might reach 40°C in the UK, the default position of TV’s weathermen and women was to talk of records being broken, as though extreme heat was some kind of Olympic sporting event, and the plucky British weather was some sort of super-athlete, whose ‘achievement’ was to be celebrated.

Let’s be clear: there’s nothing to celebrate about temperatures reaching 40°C in the UK, as was recognised when Grahame Madge, a spokesman for the Met Office, said, “We’ve just issued a red warning for extreme heat for Monday and Tuesday which is the first such warning ever issued. The warning covers an area from London up to Manchester and then up to the Vale of York. This is potentially a very serious situation.”

While the news triggered widespread warnings about the impact of the heatwave on people’s health, almost none of the coverage focused on the underlying reasons for the heatwave, and it was only the severity of the forecast that, for a few days at least, stopped tabloid newspapers from running the ‘Scorchio’ headlines that they usually resort to when summer heat hits the UK. Perhaps they had finally recognised the severity of the situation via a comment by Penny Endersby, the chief executive of the Met Office, who said, “Here in the UK we’re used to treating a hot spell as a chance to go and play in the sun. This is not that sort of weather.”

Yesterday, however, The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid rag of hatred and denial, brought even that temporary break to an end with the tagline, ’It’s Super Scorchio’, and the headline ‘Hotter than the Sahara’, irresponsibly superimposed on a photo of a beach full of people frying in the sun.

While the media are to blame for not having generally taken increasing temperatures seriously enough over the last two decades, it should be noted that they are also reflecting a long-held British belief that heatwaves are unarguably a good thing, a pay-off for us having to ‘endure’ cold weather, rain and that bane of Britishness — regularly overcast skies — for so much of the year.

However, when the heat becomes homicidal — and astute climate campaigners point out that current temperatures are already close to temperatures that, just a few years ago, we were warned of as what we should expect by 2050, if urgent action to tackle our greenhouse gas emissions is not undertaken — alarm bells ought to start ringing, with a ferocity that we have never previously had to acknowledge.

And yet life continues largely as normal. Cars and lorries still choke the roads, at the weekend another massive cruise ship was moored in Greenwich, and the obsessive consumer distractions of everyday life continue as though there is nothing to worry about.

At some level, most of us know that this is no ordinary heatwave, and know that the alarm bells are ringing, so how do we explain our paralysis?

Beyond the scenario outlined above, another reason for inaction would seem to be that no one wants to be — or likes — a ‘downer.’ People in general, it seems to me, want to ‘look on the bright side’, and are largely averse to doom-mongers in their midst. This has probably always been a helpful social mechanism, but in recent decades it has been deliberately fostered by the cheerleaders for rampant consumerism, who have actively sought to make people self-obsessed, and with a sense of extraordinary entitlement that has eroded our ability to properly comprehend and respond to the climate crisis — the sense of entitlement regarding driving, flying and supporting ‘fast fashion’ being relevant examples.

Added to this, the neoliberal machine of contemporary existence has also infiltrated the world of psychology, suggesting that anger — at official indifference to the scale of the climate crisis, for example — is a sign of some sort of maladjusted personality, rather than a logical conclusion reached by examining the state of the world objectively.

Given the scale of the unfolding climate disaster — in which, alarmingly, climate scientists find their appropriately apocalyptic messages either sidelined or ignored — the answer lies either with us, the people, or with our governments, and yet, on both fronts, an even vaguely commensurate response to the scale of the already unfolding disaster is sorely lacking.

Disastrous government failures

The government, of course, bears the major blame for our inaction — a blame shared with other major governments around the world. In 2015, after over 20 years of climate summits established the need for urgent cuts to greenhouse gas emissions to keep the world habitable, the countries of the world agreed, in Paris, to implement measures intended to keep the temperature rise since the start of the Industrial Revolution to below 2°C — and preferably to 1.5°C.

Despite this, however, actions failed to match the fine words, and by October 2018 the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was obliged to issue a startling report declaring, in no uncertain terms, that we had just 12 years left to limit global warming to 1.5°C, beyond which, as the Guardian described it, “even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.”

The publication of the IPCC report coincided with the arrival of two organizations committed to holding governments to account — the School Strike for Climate movement initiated by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, and Extinction Rebellion, a group of British activists who urged governments to “tell the truth” about climate change, and who engaged in non-violent direct action to get their point across.

Both movements succeeded, briefly, in driving the climate crisis to the top of the political agenda. Governments and councils declared “climate emergencies”, and in numerous countries a majority of people recognized climate change as a major concern, but, yet again, official action completely failed to match the scale of the concern. Although the sudden arrival of Covid-19 provided a glimpse of what a lower-impact existence could look like, by November 2021, when the UK hosted the COP26 climate summit, the key finding was that still not enough was being done.

Emissions, it transpired, were still rising, and renewed efforts had to be made to try to get countries to commit to halving emissions by 2030, as a huge and necessary step towards reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Where are the 7% a year cuts in emissions across the entire economy?

And yet, eight months later, as much of the world has been gripped by almost intolerable temperature rises, as wildfires rage in France, Spain, Portugal and Greece, and as temperatures in Europe are reaching, or exceeding 40°C, no progress has been made to initiate the 7% cuts per year in emissions that are required to reach the 2030 target.

Logically, every greenhouse gas-emitting aspect of the economy should already have cut emissions by 3.5% since January, and yet nothing has happened — either here in the UK or anywhere else in the world’s leading economies, where the push for change needs to begin.

Some leader, somewhere, needs to stand up and say, “You won’t like what I’m going to do, and you may well not vote for me the next time you have the opportunity, but by then the reasons for my actions will be clear. We’re implementing measures that will immediately cut car and lorry use by 7%, and that will cut construction sites by 7%, along with all the polluting industries that are required for construction; in particular the concrete industry. We will shut our cities to cruise ships, and we will cut flights by 7%. We will cut the global transportation of goods on vast container ships, and on planes, by 7%. We will cut meat production by 7%, and we will stop deforestation. We will stop the creation of single-use plastic tomorrow, and we also commit to no new fossil fuel extraction whatsoever. These measures are just the start, and every year from now on we will cut all of the above by a further 7%.

“These are system changes that no one with power and wealth wants to see, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and the times have never been as desperate as they are today. Climate scientists have been warning us, with mounting desperation, that only profound system change can save life on earth, and as the heatwaves and wildfires are showing us — right here, right now — the situation is now so grave that the disastrous conditions that we hoped were years way, or even decades away, are beginning to make themselves felt in ways that will only get worse, and with alarming speed, unless we make these changes now.”

Will anyone do it? Will the media finally recognize that there is only one story that needs to be on their front pages, and in their news reports every single day? And will we, the people, recognize that, in the face of persistent inaction, it is up to us to start mobilizing, to find ways to take action ourselves, if our leaders continue, so dismally, to fail us? As UN Secretary General António Guterres explained yesterday, “Half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction. We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the struggle for housing justice — and against environmental destruction — continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

32 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    On the day that the UK experienced, for the first time, temperatures of 40°C, I look at how, despite being warned that this would happen, and that it is a direct consequence of a man-made climate catastrophe that has been known about for decades, we have been failed by our politicians, our media and ourselves.

    What particularly concerns me is that, after the COP26 climate summit in November, it became apparent that, in order to maintain the possibility of keeping the rise in global temperatures since the industrial era began to 1.5°C (beyond which the earth will become increasingly uninhabitable), we need to reduce our current emissions by 50% by 2030, or, in other words, by 7% a year, and yet, since 2022 began, we have instead done nothing.

    I’d love it if we could all start talking about the need for there to be 7% cuts every year in every part of the economy that produces greenhouse gas emissions, and to imagine how we might implement that, because, to be frank, the longer we delay it, the more severe the cuts are going to have to be.

    Business as usual is over. Profound system change is required, and yet those in charge refuse to recognise it, or to act on it. Will they — and the media — wake up, or is it up to us? And if it is, how do we implement the necessary changes? As UN Secretary General António Guterres explained yesterday, “Half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction. We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Ed Calipel wrote:

    Unfortunately, so many people still believe the problem doesn’t exist.

    The number of people who refuse, point blank, to make any changes – however minor – to their way of life. Even those with young children …

    The example set by national leaders is, by and large, pitiful; flying to meetings that could be held on line, green-lighting environmentally suicidal projects and doing absolutely nothing to fulfil their empty promises.

    Sadly, the human race has proven that most of its members are either short-sightedly corrupt and self-interested or irredeemably intellectually challenged.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I think your analysis of people’s unwillingness to take responsibility for their own actions is sadly accurate, Ed, although it does, as a result, highlight the need for those who recognise the importance of action to come together to put pressure on politicians to do what they’ve so dismally failed to do for the last three decades, and to take action. George Monbiot mentioned, yesterday, that there is a “critical 25% threshold of public acceptance, beyond which, a range of scientific studies suggests, social tipping happens.”https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jul/18/heatwave-extreme-weather-uk-climate-crisis

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Sylvia Mann wrote:

    These numbers are all wrong. The situation is so much worse, we have much less time and need to do do so much more than what is even being suggested. I fear it is too late, even if we did everything right now.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    I tend to agree, Sylvia, as phenomenal heat seems to have arrived much quicker than even most experts forecast, but I’m interested primarily in what’s possible, and on that front trying to get people to be aware of our promised emissions cuts of 7% a year – to reach 50% by 2030 – seemed like a good start.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Sylvia Mann wrote:

    Andy, we need to change the whole system, incremental changes will not help us.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    At present we’re doing nothing, Sylvia. Any political leader who implemented any cuts whatsoever, however incremental, would be taking a huge leap forward. If someone gets the ball rolling, it will be easier for those moves to be built on. Otherwise, everything remains exactly as it was today, as I experienced when I went on a bike ride earlier, with absolutely no effort made to reduce the amount of traffic on London’s roads, for example, even though it has been well established that air pollution was a threat to our health even before the hottest weather of all time arrived.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Damien Morrison wrote:

    I just dont know what to say or think anymore people refuse to change even on the ch4 news they were allowing torie filth to belittle the whole climate emergency is this or will this be a wakeup call … god knows anymore

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    I’ve seen some good coverage yesterday and today, Damien, with some commentators being allowed to properly spell out the extent of the crisis we’re facing, but sadly I expect the media will simply move on tomorrow when the heatwave breaks and everything will return to ‘normal.’

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Damien Morrison wrote:

    Andy, if we want to live if we want the planet to live then the power must be turned off with the exeption of medical the way we live must end we must introduce birth control worldwide … yes yes the same old people will say eco fascist. But this is happening now … right now this … civilisation … lol. … will decend into anarchy and chaos and war. I dont know about anybody eles but im not gonna stick around and suffer in a mad max world. Theres no more time left act now or die.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    I agree, Damien, but we’re still so far from there being widespread comprehension about the scale of the threat we face. As the saying goes, “humankind cannot bear too much reality.” Unless that changes, we’re doomed, as far as I can see.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Jane Ecer wrote:

    … and still the UK news channels/press are talking in terms of records as if it is something to be lauded …

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Britain tops the charts, Jane. Number one!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Jon Atkins wrote:

    Unfortunately those of us who have taken the urgency on board a long time ago are NOT surprised. The only real question is – what WILL it take for them to react, and put that reaction into decision-making?

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I wish I knew, Jon. I don’t think it’s helped the Tories that their leadership campaign has coincided with the hottest weather ever, and yet they remain obsessed with tax cuts and pretending that Brexit was a huge success, but it’s not as though Keir Starmer is waiting in the wings with any kind of vision for meaningful change in the face of extinction. I expect some other more enlightened country will lead the way in eventually implementing aggressive new policies that will deliver immediate emission cuts, but we seem to be waiting forever for it to happen.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Adrian Walker wrote:

    The fact is that if every individual lived a greener life, then the target could at least be approached. Relying on countries, corporations, etc to make the necessary changes while the man in the street does nothing is futile.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    It needs awareness, and appropriate actions as a result, at every level of society, Adrian, and yet the comprehension, and the sense of urgency, is sorely lacking everywhere.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Bridget McKenzie wrote:

    Support Stop Funding Heat https://stopfundingheat.info/

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that helpful link, Bridget. Good to hear from you.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    Hello Andy! It was a very cold spring in Russia, I have been living for 45 years and I cannot remember such a cold spring. The climate is changing and I’m not happy about it.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    It is a very sad time, Aleksey. Our planet, as far as we know, is unique in having supported such a proliferation of life, but only within certain chemical parameters, which, sadly, we’ve been recklessly degrading throughout our lifetimes. I hope urgent action by the people will become possible in the next few years, but even if it does it will be too late to undo much of what has been, and continues to be done by those who refuse to learn that greed is useless on a dead planet.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Dave Lang wrote:

    I’ve largely given up on humanity, the direction we took in the last 40 years politically, moving to the right, pushing the individual right over the community needs and creating 7 billion rabid consumers, has led to a population who simply aren’t up to taking the action we need in order to survive long term, the deniers won as they have their big corporations backing them.

    I spent years trying to get my fellow workers to cut down their power consumption, we worked for state govt, it was our taxes paying for the waste, I could NOT get them to turn off rooms of computers or lights, they moaned about a carbon tax even though they could easily afford to pay for it. We only react when we are affected by a disaster, once they are over, it’s back to business as usual for most of us. 🙁

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Sadly, your analysis of what’s happened over the last 40 years is spot-on, Dave. The neoliberals won, the people accepted bread and circuses in exchange for abandoning the class struggle and critical thinking, and the outcome we dissenters saw 40 years ago has come to pass – the miracle of life on earth under unprecedented threat just so that some of the least visionary people to have ever walked the earth could make more money.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Dave Lang wrote:

    I would add though Andy that those who are doing it tough in third world countries, or folks barely scraping a living day to day in western societies, can be excused to some extent for not making climate change their number one priority, even though it will affect them more then anyone. It’s so sad, as we saw what could rectify the problem back in the 70s and vested interests within the system, driven by greed, prevailed. Yet none of it need have happened, as even Thatcher saw the dangers, although whether she would have ever done anything about it is a moot point. The election of Reagan was pivotal, if Carter’s energy programs had not been cancelled many, many events would have turned out differently, possibly no oil wars, US solar programs a decade earlier. The stupidity of the average US voter in their insane desire to drive huge gas guzzlers has largely screwed us, as it will in Nov 2022, unless we are bloody lucky.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    I couldn’t agree more, Dave. From the heady days of the late ’70s and early ’80s, when we still had hope, we have been bludgeoned into senseless complicity by the neoliberals, and have had to watch helplessly as so many of our citizens have become quite stupefyingly blinkered and out of touch with anything but themselves and their cosy bubbles of privilege.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Damien Morrison wrote:

    trouble is andy watching a news clip some dunce from the DUP saying all hysteria about a couple of … warm days … and hearing that the closet … monster … Sunak has said he wont be investing into wind farms … its right from the top

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    It is right from the top, Damien, but just as the Tories’ leadership race, in which the candidates are pitching to the party’s 200,000 mainly old, mainly white and mainly well-off members, has made them look hideously out of touch to the general public, with their obsession with tax cuts and pretending Brexit was a success, so their refusal to take the climate crisis seriously will also contribute to alienating the floating voters they need to hold onto power.

    The problem, of course, is that the dithering, compromised Labour Party is probably unable to capitalise on it, but they really should, because it’s clearly not going away, and will, over the next few years, become the most dominant aspect of life, as extreme weather continues, droughts decimate crops, and the dirty, money-making industries of the past and present will have to embrace a greener future.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    A few thoughts from elsewhere that may be of interest. The Guardian’s editorial today, wondering if the crisis will lead to political pressure in sufficient numbers from voters, is here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jul/19/the-guardian-view-on-public-attitudes-to-the-climate-crisis-burning-for-change

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    And XR co-founder Roger Hallam’s call for action is well worth a read.

    “As we go over 40C this week a letter has to be written by key leaders and organisations in the liberal class giving the UK government a date whereby they have to undergo specific and concrete reductions in life-destroying emissions of the deadly poisonous gas which is CO2. If this response is not substantially responded to by this date, signatures to the letter make a proportionate and constitutional response to the regime’s treasonous betrayal of its primary responsibility in any democracy – the preservation of Life and Liberty. The leaders lead their people into central London, or the capital in other democracies, and blockade the transport systems and government buildings until they are imprisoned or are successful. That’s what believing in rights demands of you. Don’t use the language of Rights unless you are prepared to act to protect them. Virtue signalling about rights in the present context is beyond contempt.”


  30. Our Climate Crisis Paralysis: How, in the Face of Unprecedented Signs of Climate Collapse, We’re Still Being Failed by Politicians, the Media and Ourselves, by Andy Worthington – Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Andy Worthington Writer, Dandelion Salad Andy Worthington website, July 19, 2022 July 20, […]

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Randy Snyder wrote:

    Andy, THANK YOU for calling out all governments around the globe for their total LACK of action on the Climate Crisis👊🏽 It truly is the issue that should be at the forefront of all news daily. Keep writing and sharing on this issue please. We need you.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you for the supportive words, Randy. The climate crisis is nothing less than the greatest test of humanity in our lifetimes, and if we fail to take the necessary measures we consign our children to untold existential horrors.

    I am enraged that a single corrupt politician in the US, Joe Manchin, a slave of the oil and gas companies, is doing so much to single-handedly wreck US efforts to deal with the scale of the crisis. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/19/joe-biden-climate-emergency

    I see that Robert Reich is calling for Manchin to be kicked out of the Democratic Party, which seems an entirely appropriate way forward: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jul/20/joe-manchin-democratic-party-kick-out

Leave a Reply

Back to the top

Back to home page

Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

The Four Fathers on Bandcamp

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo


Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium



Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:


In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

The State of London

The State of London. 16 photos of London

Andy's Flickr photos



Tag Cloud

Abu Zubaydah Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners Center for Constitutional Rights CIA torture prisons Close Guantanamo Donald Trump Four Fathers Guantanamo Housing crisis Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer The Four Fathers Torture UK austerity UK protest US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo