Imagine you are a historian writing a hundred years from now in 2115. What do you think you will mark out as the highlights of 2015? The Conservatives surprise win in the General Election? Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party? The SNP, UKIP, collapse of the Liberals? Perhaps.
My friend David Hempleman-Adams owns an aluminium ice-class yacht which he plans to sail round the North Pole next year. He kindly had me on board for a few days during his “shakedown cruise” round Svalbard/Spitzbergen last week. Ice-free North East and North West Passages themselves speaks volumes. We sailed through vast areas of ocean which would always have been part of a glacier or under sea ice, and ate huge cod further north than they have been seen for a long time. We had one close encounter with a polar bear, rather precariously perched on a chunk of ice which had fallen off the end of a glacier and was sailing out to sea. Thankfully he was more interested in his lunch of a recently-killed seal than us! It was near where Wiltshire boy Horatio Chapple was sadly killed last year. The bears have mainly moved north with the ice, leaving just a few very hungry ones behind. Anyone who doubts the existence of climate change and ice melt at the poles should take a trip to Svalbard.
Is there not an irony that as I was seeing for myself the true consequences of global warming in the Arctic, the main story in the south was about Volkswagen apparently fiddling their vehicle exhaust emissions on a truly grand scale? That action alone will have made a fair contribution to the retreat of the Arctic ice. Meanwhile, European leaders were huddled in conference in Brussels trying to decide what to do about the millions of refugees threatening to engulf our continent; and the Prime Minister was in New York with world leaders trying to work out what to do about Syria, Iraq and so much more. The Pope raised one single issue with the president of the US: not poverty, not religion, nor ethics. The Pope’s first call to President Obama was to do something about climate change. There is, of course, an umbilical cord linking climate change, poverty and water shortages throughout the developing world, warfare and terrorism in those regions and the mass migrations we are seeing.
Our historian in 2115 will be astonished how we in Westminster and at our rather silly party conferences could not seem to see what was happening around us. There are changes afoot – in the climate, in world populations, in warfare and terrorism which will have consequences for generations to come. We must all raise our sights from the mundane and local to truly shocking global developments. If we do not do so our descendants – in 100 or 1000 years – will curse our name.