Recently the rights of women have been under attack across the world. Efforts to protect these rights cannot and should not be separate from efforts to address the global environmental crises we face. A striking review published in June from a team of researchers led by Kim van Daalen from the University of Cambridge found that climate change is likely to be driving increased violence towards women, girls and other sexual and gender minorities. Our failure to address the climate emergency is helping drive extreme weather events with social consequences including sexual violence. More women are being raped because we have not reduced our carbon footprint as fast as we might have. This is the horrible reality of climate change.
In trying to change this we can look for lessons, both good and bad, in our COVID pandemic response. This showed us what a large scale social response can look like. There was an urgent and radical response to an unprecedented public health threat. We changed how we worked and moved around. We changed what we bought. Cambridge felt like a very different place. The Global Carbon Project estimates that the carbon footprint from fossil fuels globally fell by 5.4% during 2020, a significant drop but nowhere close to the near 100% drop we will need to stop catastrophic climate change. Most of that fall in carbon footprint was reversed in 2021. We have now mostly reverted to how things were before. It seems we have missed the opportunity to address the interconnected injustices and power structures which maintain our high carbon grossly unequal society and which determine who dies, or is raped, in a public health crisis.
Cambridge is an exceptionally well connected, powerful, and unequal city. The city has the potential to have a huge impact on global challenges but if we want to do this, we will need to think big and imagine a different future for our city. We will need to come together to have difficult conversations about privilege and injustice, and then take collective action to change how we do things. Money will need to be spent by those with wealth for the collective good. If we do this, we will not just be making Cambridge a better place for all who live here but also be helping improve the situation for women and other sexual and gender minorities across the world. Now more than ever this is important.
Dr James Smith, GP and Public Health Doctor, Cambridge, on behalf of Carbon Neutral Cambridge.