Climate emergency: catastrophe or catastrophising?

Battle of Ideas festival 2022, Sunday 16 October, Church House, London


Our contemporary period is often portrayed as a smorgasbord of crises – from Covid to energy, the cost of living to mental health. Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said earlier this year: ‘To put it simply, we are facing a crisis on top of a crisis.’ But one crisis seems to trump them all: the environmental crisis.

Today, droughts and floods are equally described as ‘biblical’, scientists warn that we are approaching an ‘ecological catastrophe’, and the UN secretary-general claims that we are facing ‘collective suicide’. Greta Thunberg demands that we panic.

Are we really entering the ‘end of days’? Others worry that this focus on environmental catastrophe is creating new crises. While Extinction Rebellion youth activists continue to fret about the end of the world, the American Psychological Association has identified a condition in young people that represents ‘a chronic fear of environmental doom’. And if changing weather events, such as heatwaves and lack of rain result in demands to adopt New Normal restrictions on economic activity, how can we escape cost of living and energy crises we face today?

Many environmentalists insist that the crisis is one of over-consumption, over-production and over-development at the expense of Mother Nature. Yet arguably, the developing world is in crisis because of a lack of those things. Are environmental concerns a response to a crisis or the cause of one?

Dr Shahrar Ali
former deputy leader, Green Party; author, Why Vote Green 2015

Orsolya Kovács-Magosi
PhD student and junior researcher, Corvinus University of Budapest; researcher, Climate Policy Institute (CPI)

Martin Powell
head of sustainability, Siemens Inc; former mayoral advisor on the environment; editor, The Climate City

Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos
visiting fellow, Ayn Rand Institute; instructor, Ayn Rand University; author, Identity Politics and Tribalism: the new culture wars

Austin Williams
senior lecturer, Dept of Architecture, Kingston University, London; honorary research fellow, XJTLU, Suzhou, China; author, China’s Urban Revolution: understanding Chinese eco-cities