Your world. Your say: The great global warming debate
Yesterday we asked The Independent's readers to make their contribution to the all-party inquiry on climate change. Your response has been nothing short of extraordinary. Here we publish our first selection of your letters and emails
Wednesday 29 March 2006
Challen's ideas are a worthy legacy to carry into the future
Sir: I agree with Mr Challen's ideas. Contraction and Convergence at home and internationally.
The scientist James Lovelock has a view of our climatically challenging future in which each country becomes a fortress and acts and adapts in their own interests locally as best they can, and somehow or other saves " civilisation" for a few survivors. Mr Challen's line of thinking is a more worthy legacy of civilisation to carry into the future. We must be bold! If Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world then it must partner (genuinely, in every conceivable way - a marriage) with the fifth poorest and set up an attempt to put in place contraction and convergence.
Britain's spend of CO2 comes down whilst, let us say, Rwanda's comes up until we meet at a point (closer to their starting spend than ours) that gives us a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.
This means a Rwandan's life becomes more materially and energy positive whilst a Britain's goes the other way. It does not mean a pay-off to them to keep their levels low whilst ours continue to rise. We become one. We share sacrifice to end poverty and excess at the same time. Putting our money, unilaterally if necessary at first, where our mouths are has many advantages:
* It is the most powerful argument we can deploy for encouraging contraction and convergence globally. It also gives us a chance to get our hands dirty and understand how to make it work (a model);
* A shared and meaningful project characterised by equal sacrifice will rebuild communities within countries. Meaning is absent from our lives. Let us say goodbye to Asbos and social fear and isolation;
* Partnering will mesh countries together and hopefully create a powerful counter-force to the warmongering and savagery we fear from a future in which ecological systems start collapsing and resources become chronically scarce.
We face hard times. Do we make them a thing of beauty or horror? We can choose to let our better or worse natures govern the style in which we face them.
Do we choose to enjoy a revival of human culture with dignified and ethical survival based on co-operation (the bonobo route let us say) or does human culture contract before the savagery of competition, conflict and war as we step on each others' faces in the pursuit of local survival (the chimp route let us say)?
Introduce carbon trading for flights landing and taking off in Europe
1) Overwhelmingly important: introduce carbon trading for all flights landing in and/or taking off from Europe, external as well as internal, before Open Skies agreements with US prevent it. Start with mildly restrictive allocations, but propose to tighten year by year, and carry that out.
2) Otherwise, discourage belief that a single solution is available. We might succeed with a couple of dozen 5 per cent contributions, so convey the difficult political message that several measures all need to be advanced at the same time.
3) Set the political and waste strategy conditions so that we can at least replace retiring nuclear plant with new nuclear build. Argue that this is not to displace renewables (see 2 above), but to avoid building yet more plants burning imported methane to generate electricity. Require competing nuclear consortia to provide for 100-year, dry-cooled, onsite storage of spent fuel (rather than early reprocessing), so that significant back-end investments are made while the income stream is flowing.
4) Legislate to prevent new methane-fuelled electricity generation beyond district combined-heat-and-power scale. Prohibit significant expansion of any existing methane plant during refurbishments.
5) Require all new electricity generation planning applications to provide costed tenders for incorporating plant to supply (a) desalinated water (b) hydrogen (c) district heating. None of these would be economic per se, but any might be less costly than alternatives given the quantities of waste heat being dissipated.
6) Trial a methane trading system, given its importance as a greenhouse gas where dissipated. Adjust the grants regime so that abandoned coal mine and waste tip-off gas burning CHP schemes are attractive.
7) Reintroduce the fuel tax inflator. Encourage neighbouring countries to harmonise taxes upwards. Suggest the European Commission allow environmental taxes on fuel imports within EU, so that low-tax truckers don't compete unfairly.
8) Encourage tidal lagoon electricity generation, at the 100 to 500MW scale. Solicit constructors' views of what would be a benign planning and tax regime. Legislate to cap the costs and duration of related planning inquiries, and invite tenders for plant at six coastal/estuarial sites, with an expressed view of awarding two each to winning consortia. Start planning a second round of tendering and construction as soon as the first round is under way.
Domestic renewable energy initiatives would reduce fossil fuel use
Sir: There are many forms of renewable energy currently available that all have a part to play in tackling greenhouse gas emissions, very few of which are being taken seriously. Large wind farms are only part of the solution.
If the X thousands of houses planned for the South-east were all to have Photo Voltaic (PV) cells and solar hot water heating as a condition of planning this would start to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.
It is a huge missed opportunity on behalf of the Government not to make a raft of strategic aims a part of this increase in housing and new development in general.
From domestic rain water recycling to local Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants and even as part of each development the inclusion of incinerators + CHP to reduce landfill for household waste.
The current consideration of a nuclear option shows a serious lack of joined up thinking. If the cost of new nuclear plants, including the cost of the inevitable public inquiry, were translated into grants or encouragement for renewable energy production at the domestic scale, this would start to make a serious contribution to power generation.
There are added political benefits to a joined up and strategic approach to new housing as the new housing could be granted planning only on the condition of the inclusion of a range of these initiatives and then people would be moving in forewarned, thereby negating any nimby effect. This might even translate into renewed efforts to reduce household waste and recycle.
There needs to be a change in the approach to this issue and more local and domestic initiatives are better able to deal with the problems on a range of levels, small local power plants would be able to use the waste heat in local communal heating systems to local amenities. Most of the existing woodland in the UK is unmanaged and could provide fuel for local small-scale power plants as well as that produced by local farms and recycling centres.
But it needs a committed government to make this happen through the appropriate incentives and encouragement to local councils, planning guidelines and industry. It is not possible to exclude party politics from this issue as an independent commission or agency could be overruled by party politics and this is too important an issue not to be given a lead by government. The existing power supply companies have too much of an interest to want to change the status quo.
Sir: The Government should make sure that each new house is energy efficient. By this, I not only mean maximum insulation but to include the use of grey water (from rainfall) for lavatories. This is the case with the new Senedd building in Cardiff and this building should be looked at as a model way of housing projects. There should be greater incentive for builders to buy products locally through a VAT tax break for local goods. Furthermore, lavatories in new houses should be water efficient; in Australia there is a system with half or full flush and this should be implemented as an industry standard.
A VAT tax break for all local produce sold would further discourage such extensive transportation costs that are seen in the UK. VAT should be variable so that goods that travel over a certain internal distance have full VAT, a smaller distance a lesser amount, and so on. It would also encourage local produce in supermarkets and other outlets.
As for forests, a policy similar to that of Norway where for every tree that is felled two are planted should be adopted. The UK has the space to regenerate its forests and this is an easy way to impact pollution control. It is not high impact but nevertheless a good and easy way to start.
ALISTAIR D. B. COOK
POSTGRADUATE RESEARCHER AND TUTOR, DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY, AUSTRALIA.
Sir: I am not sure exactly what the cost of all my recommendations would be, but I don't particularly care about the cost - I'm willing to face acomplete overhaul of my lifestyle if it makes the future a safer bet for my son.
I believe we should revise housing standards to include energy conservation, water conservation, power generation, waste recycling, and even food production. We should also revise vehicle standards to encourage radically lighter, stronger vehicles. And make electric/biodiesel hybrid the standard for road vehicles. Companies should be encouraged to let employees work at home wherever possible,and revise dress codes to allow self-propelled commuting. Finally, we should make sustainability a cornerstone of foreign policy, and technology transfer a major part of that.
Sir: As an educator focusing on permaculture and global citizenship with 7-9 year olds in a public school in California, I am fortunate to have a classroom full of astonishingly astute children who are more than awareof global warming, and are quite alarmed at the government's lack of action.
We are willing to do whatever it takes to get a handle on this problem, including changing our piggish American lifestyles.
Our mottoes are "Plan ahead", and, "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should!"
Sir: If the government, any government, was really behind this then they would have passed legislation forcing all new building to incorporate solar panels, wind machines, a recycling water tank under the house as well as the maximumamount of insulation in the walls and roof. The cost, due to the numbers of items being bought, could easily be absorbed into the price of the new house. They also need to get a grip of the drainage problem when new estates are created. Acres and acres of concrete replace areas where once the rain soaked in.
Sir: The UK doing something about global warming is but a drop in the ocean. It is far more important that the US, India and China are on board - the UK can provide a pivotal role in achieving this. What is required is a concerted effort to bring to the US public's attention what is required to be done. Perhaps Mr. Blair would like to leave a legacy. It is time for him and others to work with potential legislators in the US to craft a sensible platform to sort out an approach to global warming. Communication with the general population is the key - it is certainly something we have been sorely missing over the past five or six years.
Sir: Any review on climate change should address three principles. First, the review should avoid the common practice of demanding that people support green action too zealously. Encouragement is needed from government and industry and the appropriate incentives need to be offered to allow people to make a contribution. Climate change will only be addressed with the acquiescence of everyone, which will mean changing attitudes by consent and degree, not law.
Second, people will not be forced to give up their cars until alternatives are in place. Whatever government says, it will not happen the other way round. As in most other European countries, a nationally controlled public transport system which is affordable, reliable and practical will reduce dependency on cars. That will require public investment and some additional taxation. Green taxes, such as an airport fuel levy, seem to fit this particular bill perfectly.
Finally, the other side to this argument is the contribution industry makes to climate change. If private residents are being asked to change, businesses must join in the process as well. When will the electric white Transit van be introduced for example, for those short hops around town by builders etc?
Sir: The only way to avoid disaster is to adopt fission nuclear now and ban all open fire places in private homes. No matter what the cost is in financial terms, we should invest in research on fusion nuclear. Also, we must only build homes that are fully environmentally designed - no open plan, no front door opening on street without a second door to block cold air entering.
Sir: What makes me particularly angry is the fact that there are so many easy things the Government could do, but is not doing. Like, for instance, providing an incentive to households who recycle by offering a small reduction in council tax. Or making it illegal for shops to leave their doors wide open (as a marketing ploy) in the depths of winter so they are effectively heating the street in sub-zero temperatures. This is such a common practice and must be a massive factor. They should also put
short slots on TV telling people how serious the problem is and showing simple ways that we can all help (like only filling the kettle up as much as needed for cups of tea, washing laundry at lower temperature, trying to choose food that has been locally produced/is in season etc.) The Government also needs to take much more drastic steps, specifically in respect of air travel. How many people are aware that they can buy carbon offsets when they fly? Jet fuel should be taxed heavily and businesses need to take the consequences. Global companies need to rethink their business models. In this day and age of advanced video-conferencing technology it is just not necessary to jump on a plane. The answer to mushrooming demand for air travel is not to build another terminal at Heathrow.
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