You have to hand it to Boris Johnson. There is almost nothing our prime minister can’t spin into good news. You might think that melting ice caps were a cause for concern, a sign, perhaps, that the climate crisis is real and happening before our very eyes. You might also think that Cop26 – a global summit on the climate crisis, no less – was an opportune moment to acknowledge this problem and, I don’t know, even do something about it. But you’d be wrong.
Yes, it seems Boris Johnson is actually rather pleased about the fact temperatures are rising and ice caps are melting. I’ll let the man himself tell you why: “opportunities.” Always look on the bright side of ice, I suppose.
“The retreat of the ice towards the North Pole [...] will offer opportunities not just for China but actually also for ourselves,” Johnson told MPs on Wednesday. “Scapa Flow and other parts of Scotland will become potentially very important for sea traffic of a clean, green variety.”
Well, there you go, then. Never mind the fact that there may be no one around to actually capitalise on these “opportunities” if we go on turning our planet into an oven. The “opportunities” are there and that, according to Boris Johnson, is what matters.
As my colleague Jon Stone has pointed out, these comments follow similar claims made last year by all round top bloke Vladimir Putin, who said that melting ice caps could indeed open up a northern shipping route, just one of “the consequences of possible climate change”. It’s the company you keep, eh?
It is sort of funny. Here is a man, the actual prime minister, persistently saying the first thing that comes into his mind. He simply won’t let reality get him down, such is his determination to remain upbeat, to push his message of “cakeism”.
Of course we can melt the ice caps and make more money. The world is going to hell in a handcart, folks, but stop frowning, who knows what business opportunities we’ll discover in the fiery pits? Send Liz Truss to make a trade deal with the devil.
But then again it’s also not that funny. For the bloviating hides the apparent truth that Boris Johnson really couldn’t give a stuff about the climate crisis. Surely he simply wouldn’t talk up trade opportunities as a happy consequence of melting ice caps if he did? The two positions are incompatible.
As a spokesperson for Greenpeace UK said: “The prime minister’s compulsion for going off script seems to be getting the better of him at the worst possible time [...] It’s unclear who Johnson is trying to reassure with this tatty, little scrap of silver lining but he sounds like a doctor telling you what amazingly good value undertakers are these days.”
It makes you wonder what the point of Cop26 really is when the leader of the host nation insists on being so glib about the fate of the planet. OK, so maybe this was a throwaway line to a group of MPs. But it highlights a complete lack of seriousness.
This is not unexpected with Johnson, obviously, but this time it’s not about winning an election or getting an old mate off the hook. It’s so, so much bigger than that. But Johnson only has one gear. It’s deeply depressing, completely transparent, and right now puts all of us at risk. Still, “opportunities”.
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