It’s not all Brexit, Brexit, Brexit…

A lot of people, me included, have spent the past few days, weeks and months worrying about the impact of our Government’s approach to leaving the European Union on the future of our country and of those we love. We’ve recently been presented with a whole load more to worry about with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. And to cap it all, the lovely (if presumably somewhat gloomy) people at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, with their Doomsday Clock, have decided that we are now one step closer to global catastrophe. Continue reading

Climate Change: Actions speak (much) louder than words

As part of my drive to get fit and to be a bit more healthy, and as regular readers will already know, I’ve recently taken up running. When the sun’s out and I have nothing pressing on my to-do list, I like nothing more than to pull on my trainers and get out for a brisk jog through the countryside. But if the weather is bad or if I have lots of other things to do, my resolve tends to weaken a little.

This plays havoc with my training programme. Especially when I have taken the perhaps rather ill-advised step of signing up for a 10km rather hilly off-road race in just over a week’s time and, quite frankly, need all of the running practice that I can get. So while I started off with plenty of time to get in the desired mileage, with every missed run the amount of training I need to do before race day gets more and more. And the chance of me actually doing it becomes less and less.

For Red Dwarf fans, this will sound remarkably like Rimmer’s revision plan. When preparing for his astronavigation exam, holographic crew member Arnold Rimmer spends so much of the available time developing an elaborate revision timetable that he now has significantly less time for revision itself. As a result of which he develops a new, compressed revision schedule. Which means that he now has even less time. And so on. Needless to say, he fails the exam. Eleven times.

It also sounds very much like our current approach to combating climate change. We start by setting some impressive looking targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a point in the distant future. We then slump back in a chair and feel very pleased with ourselves, forgetting for the moment that setting targets is not the same as actually doing something.

So we make some plans. We analyse where our greenhouse gas emissions are coming from and who the main polluters are. We produce reports explaining what will need to change if we are to meet our new emissions targets. We even create depressing scenarios of what will happen if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But still concrete action remains elusive.

Rather than direct our efforts to things that reduce our carbon footprint, we devote our time to finding ways to look like we’re doing something without actually having to make any of the difficult decisions. We develop complex emissions trading schemes that allow us to do what we’ve always been doing. We export carbon intensive activities to other parts of the world. We encourage each other to ‘offset’ emissions rather than reduce them.

And we get mired in arguments about technicalities. We go to great lengths to explain why it’s OK to continue to burn fossil fuels, while dismissing the potential of renewable technologies. We quibble with the way greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric carbon dioxide are measured, as if the damage we are doing to our planet is but an artefact of the statistics we use. We wring our hands and question whether it’s even our fault at all.

Yet with each day that we do nothing, the challenges that lie before us become greater. We have more and more to do, but less and less time to do it. Our targets, once so full of promise, become a constant reminder of our inability to change our ways.

We cannot combat climate change by doing nothing.  We cannot hide behind our spreadsheets, our statistical analyses and our economic forecasts. We need to make difficult decisions. We need to change what we do and how we do it. We need to be willing to make sacrifices in the short term, so that we can ensure our longer term survival.

Our grandfathers knew all about hard work and sacrifice. Our fathers taught us that nothing good comes without great effort. But today we live under the fatal assumption that we can live without diligence and endeavour. That our technological prowess insulates us from the consequences of our actions. That our mastery of our world is such that the rules under which we have lived for millennia no longer apply. Well, we are wrong.

Whether it’s running, revision or reducing greenhouse emissions, unless we actually make an effort and do something, we have no hope of achieving our goals. Success does not come to those who sit quietly and hope for the best. Rather, it comes to those who have a goal and who give their all to achieve it. If we really want to protect our planet – and ourselves – from the ravages of climate change, we must all take action. And we must take it now.

Climate change: Stop arguing, start doing

It’s three o’clock in the morning and your other half rouses you out of your slumber with a tentative nudge.

“I think the house is on fire,” she says.

“No it isn’t,” you reply bluntly and turn over to go back to sleep.

“I really think it it,” she continues. “It’s getting quite warm and I’m sure I heard something crackling downstairs.”

“Lots of things make a crackling noise,” you grumble. “Nothing to worry about.”

But she won’t give up. “I’m really worried now,” she whispers. “I can smell burning and there’s smoke coming under the door.”

“Look, it’s nothing,” you answer reproachfully. “There are all sorts of things that could make it smell like something’s burning. And the smoke coming under the door is probably just steam from the boiler.”

“Can’t you just go downstairs and check everything’s OK?”

“No, so just stop going on about and let me have some peace.”

It just wouldn’t happen, would it? If you had even the slightest inkling that your house was on fire, you’d either go and check or just hustle the family straight out of the nearest exit.

So why, when it comes to the climate – our shared home – do the same principles not apply? Is our climate changing for the worse? Yes, we think so. It is out fault? Probably. Can we be absolutely certain? No, but that shouldn’t stop us doing something about it.

The scientific evidence won’t ever be 100% conclusive, because that’s now how science works. But if there’s even the slightest chance that global warming is here and that we’ve caused it (and let’s face it, the chances here are rather more than ‘slight’), then we should be doing something about it right now.

Yet our political leaders refuse to get on with it. All they seem to do is stand around arguing that it’s a global problem that needs a global response, which we can’t possibly start to think about quite yet. Or even worse, they deny there’s a problem at all.

Let’s be clear, there is a problem. But it’s not a political problem. And it’s not an economic problem. It’s a fundamental scientific problem. And the problem is this: In all probability, we are causing our climate to change in ways that will make our lives, and particularly those of our children, very difficult.

We’re pretty sure our house is on fire. So let’s stop denying there’s a problem and start thinking about how we’re going to put the fire out.

Solutions, not problems

I had one of those rare moments this weekend when several disparate things came together to form the germ of an idea. And not just any idea, but something that has changed the way I think and inspired me to do something about it.

It started with a discussion my wife and I had over a cup of tea early on Saturday morning about the parlous state of the British economy (yes, it’s all go in our house) and the growing realisation that the Government is very much out of its depth in knowing what to do about it.

I then read an article about the Occupy protests in London, in which the columnist took the protesters to task for failing to have a point. I think this particular criticism was a bit harsh, but I did have to agree that there was a lot of protesting ‘against’ things and not a lot of arguing ‘for’ things.

Tents outside St. Paul's Cathedral

Occupying London, but what's the answer? (Source: Neil Cummings / Flickr)

Then, some time on Sunday night, I read another article somewhere else (I really must make a note of these things when I read them, so I can find them again) that presented the results of some research into electoral voting patterns. The researchers made a very compelling argument, supported by data, that British voters do not vote for charismatic leaders, but rather for the leaders who seem most able to provide the answers to the questions of the day.

I found this quite heartening, because it flies in the face of how the media – and, indeed political parties – present our electoral choices. There’s a lot about style, but not much in the way of substance. But it appears that it doesn’t have to be this way. We are not, it turns out, as shallow and unthinking as people would have us believe.

So here’s the deal. As a society, we’re facing a fair few problems, from economic inequality to climate change. We want big ideas for how to address them, but all that appears to be happening is that everyone’s arguing about the problems, rather than what to do about them. We know what we’re against, but not what we’re for.

This, quite clearly, isn’t going to get us anywhere. We need ideas. And we need to recognise that we can’t afford to wait for our political leaders to come up with something. So what can we do about it? To be honest, I’m not sure. But I plan to find out. Any suggestions gratefully received…