Your world. Your say: Letters part 1
More of your letters in response to our call for your contribution to the all-party inquiry on climate change
Thursday 30 March 2006
Start getting ready now for the new lower-energy society
Sir: The scientific background to the climate change debate is rather frightening, so that those with knowledge and power are stunned by the problems ahead. If they are not addressed, I foresee the breakdown of civilisation as we know it.
The end of cheap oil will rather rapidly lead to a reduced globalisation of economies as transport costs rise. I have read a little about scenarios that may lie ahead (about 50 years). The most optimistic scenario envisages strong international organisations like the UN and equality of emissions and resource use (contraction and convergence), international use of renewable energy and nuclear power and environmental sustainability. Encouraging if China and India are involved, but politically a long way from where we are now.
A more realistic scenario is a return to local economies, downscaling of total industrial activity and a reduced but uncomfortable rate of climate change. I believe government could plan for this scenario now. Such planning would involve more investment in public transport, support for local, small and diverse industrial and agricultural enterprise.
Fifty years ago most products traveled short distances from their point of production to use. I think we will return to this situation again, so let's get prepared. This type of society will consume less energy, use resources in a more sustainable manner and emit less carbon.
PROFESSOR RICHARD BRADSHAW
DEPARTMENT OF GEOGRAPHY THE UNIVERSITY OF LIVERPOOL
Technology alone cannot save us
Sir: I believe that one of the greatest falsehoods that we are being sold by government and industry is that climate change can be "solved" or "prevented" through technology alone. This may be true if we fail to include the carbon impact of the populations of China and India as they aspire rapidly towards achieving energy-profligate Western lifestyles, but if we accept that it is right that less affluent countries can pollute to a level that we have enjoyed since the Industrial Revolution, then there is just no way that technology alone can "solve" the climate change "problem".
Unfortunately within the current political arena it is considered unacceptable to propose the real solution to the climate change "problem" which I believe will necessitate (at best) significant lifestyle changes. In this regard I commend proposals such as the one put forward by Colin Challen MP to introduce a carbon budget. I would go one step further and suggest that serious consideration is given to introducing (tradable) domestic carbon quotas, constrained by a diminishing UK carbon budget year-on-year. In addition we should adopt contraction and convergence as the official UK policy in international negotiations.
This is unlikely to happen until we or the US are affected directly by a number of horrendous events (Katrina was not big enough in this regard) that provide the catalyst necessary for real change to become acceptable by the electorate. In the meantime I will continue to work on diminishing my own carbon footprint, which I calculate every month, knowing that when the time does come for mandatory caps I am somewhat prepared for the worst.
Sir: I heartily endorse your efforts to raise environmental issues in the public eye. Having worked as an environmental consultant for many years, I had become used to seeing environmental considerations being consigned to political footnotes.
I originally worked on a climate change project for the European Commission, looking at impacts on policy making, back in the early 1990s. A mere 15 years later, it is starting to appear on electoral leaflets. Yes, it's a hard topic to deal with, but that does not excuse inaction.
It is time to move this on to the long-term agenda - with cross-party support, away from the short-term fluctuations we are used to seeing in traditional politics.
There is nothing undemocratic in this: if it shows that politicians can take the lead in promoting unpopular views, the role of politician may be restored in the public eye. The bold moves you describe in forming cross-party alliances should be supported.
Sir: I will never again vote for a party that does not have the courage to take difficult decisions about climate change, and in particular I am looking for three things:
First, I want the government to take action, particularly through the tax system, to reward good practice and make bad practice economically unviable.
Second, leaders must offer real leadership to help us make the lifestyle adjustments necessary. Make it an issue like smoking or drink-driving. We should be made to pay more for environmentally unsustainable activities such as air travel, driving to school, wasting energy, and it should be made clearer that these activities are not morally neutral, so they gradually attract the sort of social opprobium now accorded to drink-drivers.
Thirdly, I want the country to start thinking now about what sort of society we want to have once the worst effects of climate change begin to make themselves felt. Will we be able to maintain economic growth? What will our relationship be with the rest of the world?
Take the politics out of nuclear power
Sir: No one could dispute that, for the long term, someone must get to grips with the increasing pressure on finite resources which will be exerted by a growing global population with consumerist aspirations. I hope, however, that Colin Challen will excuse me if I say that whilst he is persuading three billion Chinese, Indians and Brazilians to sign up to a future of considerably reduced expectations, there is a pressing need for someone to address the near-term practicalities.
As a self-confessed qualified scientist, I am increasingly convinced that only nuclear energy can fill the increasing near- to mid-term need for reliable 24/7 baseload energy whilst reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Unfortunately, this debate has become politicised to the point that urgent decisions have become hostage to misinformed and all too easily manipulated public opinion.
Once again we see radioactive waste in the front line of the public relations battle, as if the waste generated by the last sixty years will disappear if the world rejects a nuclear future. In reality, what we stand to lose is the expertise that has the potential to minimise future waste production and to deal with the legacy. Adapting an old Greenpeace sound-bite: if the Romans had had nuclear power, I trust we would have fusion power and a solution to the waste problem by now.
The sooner this, or another government, has the courage to bite the bullet and properly re-open the nuclear energy debate the sooner we can start to address the well-defined technical issues. This Government has a proven track record in manipulating public opinion; is it not time it was put to more worthwhile use?
A lower birth rate means less pollution
Sir: We are led to believe that the birth-rate is so low in some countries, including our own, that we are now below replacement level. Rather than panicking as various governments seem to be, let us rejoice.
Climate change is caused by forms of pollution that result from our existence. As our numbers reduce, so will global warming. So too will our demand for electricity, gas, water, road space, housing, raw materials, food, landfill space. Let us encourage a low birth-rate and look forward to the resultant improved lifestyle.
Short-term problems of shortage of workers can be cured by encouraging immigration from those many countries unable to feed their unfortunate citizens.
With fewer people in the UK, we can forget building more power stations, leave the roads as they are, we will produce less sewage, produce fewer disposable nappies, fill fewer holes in the ground with refuse, enjoy cleaner air and more elbow room.
Now is the time to plan an economy that will work with a reducing population. Let's face this welcome challenge and make it work.
Every person must take responsibility
Sir: Although I am only 14 years old I believe my opinion can make a difference. So here goes...
Global warming is something that, if not dealt with soon, could destroy the earth. Instead of cutting carbon dioxide emissions people are worrying about what celebrites are wearing.
Industries need to cut down on their emissions, individuals need to take responsibilities such as cutting down car use and recycling. I think the only way to end global warming is to get everybody to do their bit. At the moment it is a few green- minded people who are trying to take the weight of the world on their shoulders, when everybody must take the blame for what is going on.
Our Labour Government is not doing enough. Climate change is an afterthought for them; they need to get their priorities right. Other parties did mention climate change in their manifestos, but everybody needs to think about it.
Instead of waiting for orders from our Prime Minister, we need to take matters into our own hands. People need to act now.
Humanity's deep reluctance to change
Sir: The many responses to the global warming crisis often suggest a huge investment in public transport. However, this fails to take into account that buses and trains also, directly or indirectly, use polluting energy. One glance at London's streets now crowded with buses is an example - the Congestion Charge has simply shifted the problem.
Given the truly titanic forces involved in such earth changes, whether man-made, or natural, or, most probably, both, any efforts by a deeply reluctant humanity to change its ways, as Lovelock has pointed out, may already be too feeble or too late.
Be brave, act now, show leadership
Sir: I am appalled at this government's laissez-faire attitude to climate change.
Where is the encouragement to the man in the street to do his bit? Why are groups all over the country fighting to stop airport expansion? Aircraft being one of the largest polluters, airports should be in decline.
Why isn't climate change and care for the environment the core subject in our schools so the the young people of our country have an understanding of what is happening and what they can do about it?
We need a "wartime" sense of purpose of pulling together and working for the common good. Where is the governments role in this? They don't seem to have one! Come on, be brave, act now, get the population on your side. You will be amazed at what you can achieve.
'Climate effect' labelling on products
Sir: For many years, we've had compulsory health warnings on smoking products. We also have nutrition labelling on food and drink items. Most wine, beer and spirits now carry information about alcohol units. All of these things are permanent reminders to consumers, and may serve to influence behaviour. I have certainly moderated my alcohol consumption since discovering how many alcohol units there are in a can of my favourite tipple.
Why can't there, then, be similar statutory labelling and information about "climate effect" applied to all products and services that are substantial contributors to climate change. Car performance figures usually include miles-per-gallon, torque, brake-horse-power. So why not include figures showing typical carbon production under a variety of driving conditions, and how these translate into climate effect.
HERNE BAY, KENT
Sir: I suspect nothing will happen until a far greater disaster wakens governments up. However here's a table for transport. One horsepower will transport: 1 kilo by air; 10 kilos by land; 5 tons by sea; 70 tons by canal. Doesn't anyone think about future generations?
Set a good example
Sir: There is no choice but to bring the debate down to the individual. Make everyone accountable for their personal effect on the environment. What would send a clear message out to people is if Tony Blair and his government stopped getting taxied and flown everywhere, and started riding a bike to Downing Street, or instead of flying to Washington taking the boat. Air fuel tax has to be on the international agenda.
Sir: Money talks louder than anything. The greatest polluters of the world are also very profitable companies which we all invest in through our pensions. If the global investment community could agree to disinvest in the high-polluting companies and invest in the less polluting companies the changes in stock prices would soon make the high-polluting companies change their ways. The Government could help this process by encouraging or demanding disclosure by the companies of their global carbon footprint in a uniform way that is easily understood by investors.
No more tinkering
Sir: I would like to register the fact that I would support a political party that had a coherent policy to combat carbon emissions even if it meant that my personal income was reduced. I agree that we can no longer seek to combat climate change by simply tinkering with the economic machine; it is time that we looked at radical solutions that might mean changing the way the economy works in fundamental ways.
Save the world from me
Sir: The taxing of aeroplanes from the sky and guzzlers from the road should not be delayed, as I bet I'm not alone wishing to get in as much consumption as practicable before it happens.
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