How disappointing. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has apologised for remarks he made at COP26 yesterday, in which he said politicians of today would be cursed for their failure to act against climate change. Challenged on this he went on to say “It was consciously a strong word. . . People will speak of them in far stronger terms than we speak today of the politicians of the 30s, of the politicians who ignored what was happening in Nazi Germany,” this time round “It would allow a genocide on an infinitely great scale. I’m not sure there’s grades of genocide, but there’s width of genocide, and this will be genocide indirectly, by negligence, recklessness, that will in the end come back to us or to our children and grandchildren.”
What is there to dispute about this blindingly obvious statement? But then came the apology, in a Tweet: “I unequivocally apologise for the words I used when trying to emphasize the gravity of the situation facing us at COP26. It’s never right to make comparisons with the atrocities brought by the Nazis, and I’m sorry for the offence caused to Jews by these words.”
If it can be interpreted that Welby was somehow downplaying the Holocaust, that would indeed be offensive. In his choice of examples of politicians turning a blind eye to genocide, he could have chosen Stalin instead (ref. the Holodomor, the Ukranian genocide which claimed more lives than the Holocaust, or the European genocide against North American natives which on some estimates claimed more lives than most other genocides put together). If one is merely counting deaths, there is certainly a ‘width’ issue, so one can’t really fault Welby on that. But he was spot on comparing our current crop of leaders to the appeasers of the 1930s. They thought the Hitler problem could be bought off with one compromise after another, just as our leaders today talk a fighting talk but then cave in to the least bit of pressure, e.g. from the fossil fuel lobby.
+Just in case they don't print it, here's a self-explanatory letter to the Guardian:
I am pleased Polly Toynbee has promoted Personal Carbon Allowances (Radical climate policies don’t have to punish poor people, 2nd Nov). This method of fairly distributing the burden of carbon emissions responsibilities was first known as “Domestic Tradable Quotas” and devised by the late Dr David Fleming. It was the subject of a private members bill I launched in 2004. When a year or two later, David Miliband described the idea as a ‘thought experiment’ I knew it wasn’t going anywhere. If Mr Miliband has changed his mind that would be very welcome. The beauty of PCAs is that the scheme ties in perfectly with the Contraction and Convergence global framework, an idea which the Labour government shied away from in public but nevertheless used to underpin the calculations behind the Climate Change Act 2008. This little piece of history tells me that politicians have to be much more upfront about the behavioural changes we need to make. Following the usual pattern, COP26 will merely be followed by even faster rates of carbon emissions despite all the wonderful blah blah blah and bouquet of inadequate initiatives.