Cameron’s cry of ‘If not now, when?’ resonates
The British PM's call to action on airstrikes in Syria is not only applicable to fighting Isil, but also to climate change and US gun laws
Published 06/12/2015 | 02:30
It was a week that demanded action, yet this was met with much resistance.
Climate change talks began on Monday, as 150 heads of state gathered in Paris to try to agree a global deal that will avoid worldwide average temperature change from exceeding 2C. Some say if the agreement is made it would be praised in the future as humanity's greatest achievement.
However, that did not stop our very own Enda Kenny from taking to the stage and making excuses. Commentators criticised his lacklustre speech, which said that while "Ireland is determined to play its part," in cutting CO2 emissions by 2050, he wants "an approach towards carbon neutrality in the land sector that does not compromise our capacity for food production," referring to beef and dairy farming.
Later, speaking to reporters at the COP21 global summit, he singled out Irish agriculture, which he said was being asked to meet unreachable targets and blamed the "lost decade" of the recession for impeding our efforts.
This kind of localised thinking at a global summit is a bit embarrassing, isn't it? For the Irish are not the only ones who rely on agriculture, nor are we the only ones who experienced the "lost decade" of the (ahem) global recession. And while the beef and dairy agriculture industry may suffer, (even though the diversification to crop production, ironically aided by rising temperatures due to climate change in our latitude, should be embraced), that is nothing to the suffering of countries affected more directly around the world by the effects of climate change and pollution.
One need not look very far last week for examples.
In the southern Indian city of Chennai, the heaviest rainfall in a century only began to ease on Friday, following more than 269 deaths due to flooding. The floods have been ongoing since late last month with more than 7,000 people needing to be rescued and many still stranded.
The New York Times also profiled the disappearing Marshall Islands, 1,000 low-lying islands in the South Pacific that are slowly being drowned by rising sea water.
"I feel like we're living underwater," said islander Linber Anej, "I can't leave my parents but I don't want my kids to drown here."
Not only is climate change impacting on our natural environment but our political and social environment too.
Scientist Bill Nye spoke on CNN last week linking climate change to the recent Paris attacks. He said, "It's very reasonable that the recent trouble in Paris is a result of climate change," explaining that water shortages in Syria are displacing young farmers to the city where high levels of unemployment lead to disaffection and ultimately radicalism.
Despite Kenny's hesitation, compromise is exactly what will have to happen if we are to make any dent in the overwhelming reality of global warming.
Meanwhile, while climate change may have played a role in the rise of Isil, Western intervention most definitely has and this sticky topic reared its ugly head again last week as the British parliament faced a tense 10-hour debate over whether or not to support a vote for airstrikes in Syria.
Thousand of protesters took to the streets to cry "Don't bomb Syria" and politicians on the left decried a lack of proof that airstrikes would lead to any tangible change.
Whether or not it will is debatable. The UK is merely joining a Western air fleet to fight Isil but many worry that innocent civilians will be caught up in the bombings. Without any clear military targets or strategy, they fear, it will merely create more devastation and inevitably, play into the cycle of Western killing of innocents leading the victims to seek retribution against the West and becoming radicalised. Then there's the issue of who on the ground the West should support to fight Isil. Syria is divided amongst warring factions, some just as dangerous as Isil should they gain power. While British PM David Cameron claimed there are 70,000 opposition fighters in Syria, critics say the number is far fewer and they are not a united force.
Still, action calls. Last week it was reported that yet another mass grave of Iraq's Yazidi community has been discovered in the town of Sinjar, one of more than 30 believed to exist in the region. The UN has accused Isil militants of committing possible genocide.
Can we stand by and do nothing when faced with such a destructive, borderless, fascist force? As Cameron said, "If not now, when?"
In the end Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stood by his lifelong policy of pacifism, calling for a diplomatic peace settlement. However, Corbyn did not use his party whip - indeed, shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn spoke eloquently in favour of airstrikes in the House of Commons debate. In the end, many Labour MPs voted in favour and the motion was passed, leading to airstrikes on the Isil-controlled Omar oil fields, in eastern Syria, just a few hours later.
Meanwhile, a potentially Isil-motivated terror attack in California shocked no one, as it was seen merely as another in a series of deranged civilian-on-civilian attacks. Gun violence in the US is relentless and unchanging and there's an element of sympathy fatigue amongst those watching from the sidelines outside America.
Because of the widespread availability of guns, 297 people are shot every day, 89 of whom are killed. Mass shootings merely draw attention to the wider insanity of gun laws in America. The sad thing is that this shooting happened in California, which has made a conscious efforts to limit the availability of guns. It was one of the few states to effectively enact the Brady Bill, which stops the sale of guns to those with a criminal record, those declared dangerous due to a mental illness or domestic violence offenders. With it, California reduced its firearm mortality rate by 47.7pc between 1990 and 2009.
In reality, 90pc of Americans surveyed say they support background checks being expanded but progress is slow. Anti-gun violence groups like The Brady Campaign are continually lobbying the state legislatures and enacting change on a small scale. But US politicians need to act and the public needs to embrace it. Otherwise, everyday life in America will continue, as a BBC correspondent said when reporting on the shooting.
"Just another day in the United States, another day of gunfire, panic and fear."