Sunday, 14 January 2007

Planes, Trains (and of course) Automobiles...

It's hard not to be confused when faced with the plethora of statistics and warnings about climate change. Some say it's not happening - it's all cyclical and they have a point. The world HAS been warmer in the past - in Roman times, in the 13th Century and in the time of the dinosaurs it was considerably warmer. All these pre-dated the internal combustion engine and even humanity.

And yet the evidence of the speed of climate change is worrying. Yes, the planet warmed from 1900 to 1940 and then cooled until about 1980 but the speed of warmth since then has been astonishing. It is the speed of warmth that suggests human activity is playing a part. The worry about that is that there are now over 6 billion of us.

Where once we worried about aerosols and CFCs we have a new buzzword - the "carbon footprint". This measurement of how much Carbon Dioxide (CO2) we create both individually and collectively is being used, albeit selectively by the media, as either a stick to beat us with or an economic weapon with which we may be rewarded or punished and now it is being a political weapon too.

CO2 emissions are used to justify some acarcely credible policy statements by politicians of all parties. Of course, we all know cars are far more emission efficient than they were but there are far more of them and the prospect of an explosion in car ownership in China and India is a source of concern. There has been, in recent days, a focus on air travel. Now, I don't dispute that aviation is a source of carbon dioxide emissions but before we all start cancelling our trips round the world, there is the substantial use of aviation for cargo transport to consider.

In my youth, for example, fruit and veg had defined "seasons". Strawberries were available in May and June either in the shops or from farms. Now, they are available all year round and are flown in from Israel or the Canary Islands. I don't dispute the fact that people like strawberries and want strawberries but do we need them in January ? I would argue not, I would argue that the planes flying them and all the other unnecessary produce should stay on the ground. Our lives won't be adversely affected but it might make a more meaningful impact on CO2 emissions than changing the odd light bulb here and there.

Of course, the science has a sting in the tail with the concept of "global dimming". There is evidence that when air travel was halted in the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks in New York, the United States saw perceptible changes in temperature, cloud cover and even the brightness of the sun with the absence of aviation. In this way, science gives the lie to those who say human activity isn't having an effect...

Sky's "Green Britain" was often trivial and unwilling to take on the key questions. What it did show was a clear and growing division among politicians as to how to deal with climate change.

There are broadly three schools of thought:

1) "There's No Problem" - this is widely held in American circles and was shown here by the response of Nigel Lawson to the Stern Report. The proponents of this line assue environmentalists in often vitriolic terms of "green fascism". I suspect these people would sacrifice the planet itself rather than their dubious notions of personal freedom and would prefer anarchy to any form of Government action.

2) "We Must Change Our Lives" - the proponents of this line argue that climate change is a real and growing threat and can only be countered by a draconian response in which the State effectively declares war on pollution and polluters. Individuals must be forced to re-appraise every facet of their lives - for example, foreign holidays - to see if they can reduce their individual "carbon footprint".

3) "Science Will Save Us" - this seemed to me to be the Blair response. It is seductive and simple - no need to do anything too drastic (apart from making sure your home is insulated and you use low-energy light bulbs). Technology and human ingenuity will make aviation cleaner and will ameliorate the worst excesses of global warming.

I'm 46 tomorrow - my little nephew is four months old. When he is 46, I don't want him and his generation to be living in a worse world than it is now. As a famous person once said "we don't own the world - we are merely looking after it for our children". Let's make sure research and development has the funds needed to explore every avenue and let's all consider living without strawberries in January. The future will thank us for it.

4 comments:

Apollo Project said...

You can also do something positive on the travel front - visit www.seat61.com

Peter the Punter said...

Nice post, Splodge.

I'd now like to hear more about your interest in racing!

Tressage said...

Very interesting ideas, Stodge (or are you Splodge?) But what do we do about them? Just give up buying imported strawberries on an individual basis?

loadofoldstodge said...

The name is Stodge - NOT Splodge. As far as the strawberries are concerned, if there is one area where taxation as a weapon could be used, this might be it. If it becomes economically unattractive to bring strawberries into this country by air, the big supermarkets will stop doing it.