Opinion | The latest IPCC Report: Why resigned despair is no longer an option for Bristolians


Benny Peeler, Philosophy and Politics, Third Year

The first of three special reports by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released in early August and as many expected it makes for grim reading. However, even with this darkest of clouds, there remains an encouraging if not slightly daunting silver lining for the residents of Bristol; could this be an opportunity for Bristol to set an example to other UK cities as to what real city-wide environmental change should look like?

When world famous climate activist Greta Thunberg visited Bristol in February 2020 she once again urged politicians, media and the public alike to treat the climate crisis as seriously as we would take our own house being on fire. This has become a signature metaphor of hers and is even the title of the book she co-wrote; ‘Our House is on Fire’.

The trouble is that if my actual house was ablaze, I would follow the fire safety advice I’ve been taught since primary school which is to run as far away as possible and painfully accept that my precious belongings are lost.

Of course, this is a little harsh on Greta’s rhetoric which has in fact proven to be extremely effective in getting our politicians to at least pretend as if they care. The point is that it is quite difficult not to be filled with a complete sense of doom and futility similar to that of seeing your possessions be engulfed in flames when reading even just the summary points of the new IPCC report.

We can assume that this time humans really have gone past the point of no return. As the report states, climate change is no longer a future issue but one that is happening right now - we are living in the climate crisis.

We have a fighting chance of making the next IPCC report a little less morbid

However, my defeatist attitude was significantly altered a few months ago after reading an interview with leading climatologist and author Michael E. Mann. He argues that ‘Doom-mongering has overtaken denial as a threat and as a tactic. ‘Inactivists’ know that if people believe there is nothing you can do…they unwittingly do the bidding of fossil fuel interests by giving up.’

Multiple recent articles suggest that the fossil fuel industry funds specific climate research that hopes to find the worst possible outcome for the climate in a malicious so-called ‘green’ effort.

This is not to suggest that the IPCC’s findings are the same as the research which is funded by these oil companies. Its predictions are undoubtedly thorough and without bias. However, I do suspect and worry that it may result in the same ‘Doom-mongering’ effect which could lead to a destructive army of inactivists.

To me, it is of the utmost importance that of all places in the UK, the city and the people of Bristol are protected from this wave of nihilistic despair. This is because, without doubt, Bristol has one of the best and most plausible chances of actually becoming a carbon net-zero city. Setting a much needed example not just for other UK cities but globally.

In 2020, Bristol was named the greenest city in the UK in a study by Good Move. It found Bristol‘s residents recycle or compost six per cent more of their household waste than anywhere else and was the only UK city to consume less than 3,000KWh of gas annually.

Greta Thunberg mural in Bristol | Bristol 24/7

In the May local elections, the Green party made historic gains across the whole city, more than doubling their seats on the council from 11 to 24.

Prior to this, the council had already pledged net neutrality by 2030 (20 years before the UK governments official target) using their ‘One City Climate Strategy’. Finally, the University of Bristol’s 'Cabot institute for the Environment' holds no less than six of the 200 climate scientists who contributed to the IPCC report. Bristol is currently laying the foundations for a potentially historic decade of significant environmental reform.

Of course, this does not make the IPCC report any less daunting or accurate and much of this good news is reliant on policy, which is yet to happen. However, it may give hope to my fellow Bristolians that we stand on the very frontline of this crisis.

Armed with our reusable coffee cups, love of vegan cuisine and most importantly our passion for a feisty protest and the voting ballot that comes with it, we have a fighting chance of making the next IPCC report a little less morbid by setting an example other cities will follow. Despair is no longer an option.

Featured image: Li-An-Lim

What do you think about the latest IPCC report? Let us know!