“Doing Our Bit for the Environment”

“Doing Our Bit for the Environment”

There is a widespread misunderstanding of the so-called greenhouse effect which is fatally undermining the world’s attempts to save itself from climate catastrophe.  Nowhere is this error more clearly demonstrated than in Lord Lawson’s book An Appeal to Reason.  Lawson argues that the IPCC’s most likely forecast for global temperature rise is 3 degrees during the coming century.  This evens out at 0.03% a year but we have already been living with well above pre-industrial levels during the twentieth century.  There is every reason to think that with more efficient industries and domestic appliances we shall be able to live with 0.03 just as comfortably as we have with almost 0.015 during the twentieth century.  All the climate fanatics are doing is hampering our industries, the spreading of wealth and the progress of humanity.                                                         

This is a staggering misunderstand of what the scientists are telling us.  We are not pumping so much carbon into the atmosphere we are forming a blanket of CO2 round the earth that is trapping heat.  The amount of carbon we are emitting is minuscule compared with nature.  Everything that dies emits carbon.  But nature neutralizes these vast emissions with cooling mechanisms, mainly three:  trees and soil that store carbon, trillions and trillions of ocean algae and the polar ice caps that for millions of years have reflected 30% of the sun’s heat back into space.  What we are doing is disabling the cooling mechanisms.   Once we have done it enough they will cease to work and all that sequestered carbon will start roaring into the atmosphere; we have now almost reached that point.  But we are not merely disabling them. It is worse, far worse.  What Lawson hasn’t grasped is the self-enabling feedback mechanism of the climate change dynamic.  Every tree that catches fire releases its carbon and make the world that much hotter.  Algae that die from carbon poisoning poison the ocean even more.  Arctic ice that turns to water releases heat. The more ice that melts the hotter the earth becomes and yet more melts.   Once the earth heats by much more that 1.5 degrees we shall trigger not only three more degrees but an escalating unstoppable process that will feed itself, and almost inevitably culminate in 5 or 6 and the demise of human and most life on earth.  This is the challenge we are now facing.  But most people don’t see it like that.

According to most of the scientists we only have about ten years left now to halt this self-feeding escalation before runaway climate change escapes any ability we have to control it and starts warming the earth on a far vaster scale than anything we could achieve.  The idea that we must reach carbon neutral by 2050 is one of those ideas that is fatally misleading because it is in itself true.  But it is 2030 that is the crucial target date.  Far less noticed is it that the scientists are also telling us we need to achieve a 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 if we are to have any hope of achieving carbon zero by 2050. 

Do we have any hope?  Very little.  There is currently widespread talk encouraged by governments of natural gas as a ‘transition’ fuel, another elephant trap into which people easily fall.  Natural gas is far worse than coal because of its methane emissions (sees studies at Cornel 2009, Harvard 2012 and Tyndall).  2021 is already set to be the second worst year on record for carbon emissions.  India and China show no sign of reducing their vast outpourings of carbon any time soon. Australia is mining ever more coal.  Bolsonaro in Brazil is  tearing down more and  more of the Amazon rain forest, which has just turned from a major carbon sink into  emitting more carbon than it is sequestering.  Even Biden is struggling to get his ambitious environmental bills through Congress.  The UK, the host of Cop26 and loudly proclaiming it is leading the world in environmental awareness, is riddled with inconsistencies.  We support, we say, giving billions of dollars to poor countries to help them fight climate change but have cut international aid.  We are still subsidizing fossil fuel industries more than green ones.  We have lifted duties on internal flights and ditched the programme to de-carbonize homes. We have not earned our title of perfidious Albion for nothing.

Yet nobody wants to hand on to their children the hell of earth the scientists are saying is coming. Why are governments getting away with it?   It is because we are not frightened enough.  Sadly, all those green initiatives – phasing out plastic bags, eating more veg, using the bus instead of the car – such good things in themselves are, like the trees that catch fire, not diminishing but adding to the problem. They so easily fortify our complacency that we are well on the way – perhaps a little behind but we’re going to catch up – to carbon neutral by 2050.

Yet the saddest thing is even now we could still halt the onset of runaway global warming if we understood the science and were not deluding ourselves.  We could certainly make our heating carbon neutral by 2030 if we started making bio-fuels from grass.  The process produces methane which can be converted to CO2 that is then emitted from conventional boilers, but this is soaked up by next year’s grass.  We could eat almost no meat.   We could put more resources into recycling plastic with a view to banning raw plastic by 2030. We could stop buying stuff from China because it’s cheap.  We could stop most of our flying.  We could put money and energy into the development of lab-cultured meat and fish.  We could subsidize organic vegetables instead of fossil fuels. We could demand our government stops subsidizing fossil fuels and opening new coal mines and oil fields.   Above all we could put saving the earth for our children right at the top of our priorities.  The UK really can set the lead of which it so vainly boasts.  We can avert the horror that is coming.  But do we want to?  Not really, not because we are stupid but because we are not frightened enough, and so very, very easily delude ourselves.   Our biggest problems are ‘environmental awareness’ and ‘doing our bit for the environment’.


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