trust – tolerance – self-sufficiency

Reality must take precedence over public relations for nature cannot be fooled - Richard Feynman

Although most authorities agree that climate change is occurring and that we are responsible for at least part of it, there are enough plausible/compulsive/self-interested naysayers around to feed the apathy that will enable many of us to shrug our shoulders at what is a highly complex and long term problem, and carry on ‘as normal’.

To a degree this is understandable.  As a result of their actions in dealing with asbestos, tobacco, thalidomide, Bhopal and innumerable other incidents, not to mention their cocking a snook at the tax-paying public, their customers, with their eye-watering tax evasion, ‘Big Business’ is deeply mistrusted by the public.  Politicians too, and with considerable justice, are even more distrusted, while scientists, sadly caught between the two because of the funding they need, and very apt to be isolated and competitively bitchy with one another anyway, have been similarly tainted.  This last is particularly bad as the work of scientists is crucial in dealing with this problem and, unlike ‘Big Business’ and politicians, distrust of them is generally misplaced.

(That said, scientists must make far more effort to inform the public clearly about what they are finding, and, particularly, the limits of any conclusions they have reached.  A major, but quite simple step towards this would be to abandon the long-established practice of using jargon and wilfully obscure language in their papers.  Also, Press Releases should present conclusions, particularly statistics, in a way not readily open to misinterpretation.  This will not be easy – the interpretation of statistics is problematic even for professionals – but difficulty is no excuse for not trying given the general irresponsibility of the media and the risks we all face).

It is vital that research into, and debate about, climate change is continued vigorously.  However, two things need to be understood:

  1. The subject is vastly complex, with contributing factors ranging from the effects of sea fauna on droplet and cloud formation, bovine flatulence, cloud-cover albedo, non-linear ice-sheet deterioration, melting of permafrost, cycles in the sun’s radiance etc, on and on.  It does not lend itself to easy forecasting and indeed will probably never be fully understood.
  2. Science does not provide answers, it asks questions.  All scientific conclusions are tentative and awaiting either disproof or increased refinement.  We have to work with what we have, not wait about until ‘someone else’ finds ‘the answer’, not least because there will not be one.  That said, only science and technology at their very best, coupled with the most imaginative and open-minded thinking, and complete public co-operation and involvement, will enable us to deal with what is happening.

All of which leaves us where?

Looking for common ground – ground where both yea and naysayers can agree.  Consider this:

  1. Independent of its cause, climate change – more properly, climate instability – is happening.  For anyone over 30, all that is needed to confirm this is a memory.  We must try to stop or at least reduce this, but we must also be ready to deal with it.
  2. Whether they are causing or contributing to climate change or not, we cannot continue indefinitely consuming non-renewing resources and dumping our many and varied waste and extraction products, including greenhouse gases, into the sea, the air and the ground, without expecting serious adverse consequences.  It has to stop.
  3. It is true that there are various ecological and economic problems with recycling, wind farms, solar heating etc, but human progress is invariably three steps forward and two back.  The problems caused by doing nothing will be far greater.

To anyone still resolutely determined to do nothing, I would say, fair enough, you’re a grown-up, it’s your choice.  But at least go to your children and grandchildren and tell them you’re sorry but when the non-renewing fuels have gone and their products have irreparably fouled the atmosphere, they are going to have to sort out the mess – which will be bad, if not terminal by then – because you can’t be bothered to do anything now.  Then shut up and get out of the way of those trying to do something.  We are not trying to ‘Save the Planet’ here – that will carry on fine without us – we’re trying to save the human race. I would make a similar and even stronger appeal to the directors of the various oil companies trapped in the massive and destructive momentum of their industry.

So what to do?

Firstly, realize that what we do, as individuals, families, neighbourhoods, is not merely important, it is vital.  Environmental degradation is not caused by a few massive polluters, is it caused by millions of small polluters – us – and it will not be reduced until we take action about it.  Should you have some vague idea that the Government will ‘do something’ about it, ask yourself, do you seriously think that the likes of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband and all their weary, self-serving and myopic political hangers-on are even remotely capable of tackling this problem?  And do you think that the Governments of India and China could stop their industrial revolutions even if they wanted to?  In this case, above all others, Government(s) will go where we lead, and lead we must – the matter is far too serious for us to wait for our politicians to grow up and the rest of the world to wake up.

There is endless scope for beneficial initiatives by individuals, businesses large and small, and, not least, bedroom and garden shed entrepreneurs.  Government, at its best, can only co-ordinate information and provide encouragement through tax incentives, grants, prizes etc, by eliminating bureaucracy and over-regulation and by looking at certain price structures with a view to encouraging low usage e.g. eliminating standing charges on utility bills etc – (this will also help the less well off).  The real work will be done by scientists, engineers, technicians, craftsmen and those British treasures, the irrepressibly ingenious.

Priority has to be given to individuals and businesses gradually reducing their consumption and waste emissions.  There is no point building vast wind farms, destructive tidal barrages etc when we simply waste most of the electricity generated.  Nor is nuclear power an option.  Leaving silently lethal irradiated ‘hot spots’ for countless future generations to deal with because we cannot, is wholly indefensible.

Secondly, do it – just do it, and do it now!  Basic policy will be to stop all carbon emissions and then start removing carbon from the atmosphere.  Nothing less will suffice.  Just get on with it.  Do not set ‘targets’ – they are limiting and silly – the refuge of incompetent managers.  What are you going to do when you have ‘hit’ your target?  Stop?  Stagnate?  Just do your best, as quickly as possible, then make it better.  Always – always – work to ‘raise your game’.  Do not waste your time on ‘careful’ cost analyses.  What are you being ‘careful’ about?  Getting your money back in ten years?  No-one can predict the future. Plus, the costs involved are not that big.  If all your heating and lighting came free would it make the difference between your being rich or poor, or would it just be financially very nice, thank you?  Start doing something about the environment for a simpler reason – it is the right thing to do for yourself, your children and their children, full stop.  Set the example, set the tone.  If you are in any doubt about the value of your effort, ask yourself, ‘if I don’t do it, who will?’

Some ideas