The Queen of Punk Tells Archbishop of Canterbury to Ban Fracking
By Yosola Olorunshola
Whether it's through fashion or protest, Vivienne Westwood is not a woman afraid of making a statement.
On May 23, she rocked up to the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London with a special guest—the Grim Reaper—to issue a strong statement on the Church of England's position on fracking.
The Queen of Punk delivered a report, Whitehall's Fracking Science Failure, which criticizes the Church of England for declaring fracking "morally acceptable," and for its apparent support of the government's stance on the fracking industry.
Fracking is the technique used to extract gas from shale rock by injecting water at high pressure. In October 2016, the government controversially overturned objections to a fracking proposal in Lancashire, and gave the go-ahead for energy company Cuadrilla to explore the potential of fracking in the local area.
Opponents to fracking argue that the process can contaminate water supplies, damage the countryside, trigger Earth tremors and that fundamentally, it perpetuates a dependence on fossil fuels at a time when the world needs to switch to renewable energy.
"Fracking kills, and it poisons the whole land," Westwood told Global Citizen. "The majority of people in England are against fracking."
According to a YouGov poll from October 2016 , she's right. Fracking is deeply unpopular in the UK. Only 37.3 percent of those polled supported shale gas extraction.
Still, the government argues that fracking can be delivered safely and that emissions from shale gas would be lower than coal if conducted within official regulations.
"The position that fracking is cleaner than coal and can help us bridge to a renewable energy future whilst helping us reach our climate change reduction targets is a complete falsehood," the report says, calling for a complete moratorium on fracking in England. Both Scotland and Wales have declared a moratorium on fracking due to concerns about its negative environmental and health consequences.
As the Church owns swathes of land across the country, Westwood warned of its responsibility to prevent environmental degradation. In 2015, the Church of England decided to divest from the two most polluting fossil fuels—thermal coal and tar sands. Yet its recent decision to "tentatively back" fracking has left many disappointed.
End Ecocide. https://t.co/3LZeiYRbnb— Vivienne Westwood (@Vivienne Westwood)1492535772.0
Appearing alongside the Grim Reaper is a dark symbol, but one that captures Westwood's daring spirit—a rebellious attitude that extends from her eye for unconventional frocks on the catwalk to her outspoken defense of the planet and its inhabitants. As well as fighting fracking in the UK, she is a longstanding supporter of Cool Earth, which works with indigenous peoples to halt rainforest destruction.
"We have to save the world from climate change," she said. While campaigning at a political level, Westwood also believes individuals can take immediate practical action to start a climate change revolution from within their own homes.
"In all my time as an activist, I explain the problem and people say what can we do. It's the first time I've found an answer. Switch to green energy. That's something you can do. It will completely undermine the rotten financial system that we've got. It will really bring in the green economy. The green economy will save us. The green economy is the only chance we've got of a paradise."
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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