The logic is that as the oceans grow warmer there will be more and more rain and worse and worse storms, and the UK is facing the Atlantic. Already the ground is so saturated in some parts of England water will keep welling up and, even if it stopped raining now, the flooded areas will remain flooded for several months. We are used to hearing that the Maldives and Bangladesh are likely to go under water before the end of the present century. Sorry about that but it is only the Maldives and Bangladesh. We never imagined that significant parts of the UK might go under water too. But that is the logic because it is not going to stop raining. If the climate scientists are right it is going to rain more and more, although higher rainfall might be interspersed with periods of severe drought. If the Thames Valley and Somerset are going to be flooded for several more months, it is not hard to see that with even more, much more rain some parts of the UK might be more or less permanently flooded. To this we have to add the metre sea level rise, or possibly even greater, that is forecast. Some of the most fertile parts of England, the fens and West Lancashire and the Yorkhire plain must be under threat.
This is an important moment. It is the first time that global warming has affected our country in a really serious way. How are we going to respond to it? Of course, climate sceptics will say that there have been episodes of bad weather consequent on the jet stream moving south before, so this is not conclusive evidence of the effects of global warming. That’s true. The Titanic sank in 1912 because the jet stream bringing icebergs with it had moved farther south than anybody had anticipated. But surely anyone with common sense can see that in 1912 extreme weather events were rare, now they are happening all the time all over the globe. It’s probably too late now to hold global warming to below the 2 degree tipping point of which the scientists warn, beyond which climate change will greatly increase in severity. But we could, with a vast effort, save our children from the truly terrible world which 4 degrees and above might bring.
Can we do this? Undoubtedly yes. The necessary technology to replace fossil fuels is all available. One hot day last summer Germany generated half the domestic electricity it used from rooftop pv tiles alone. It is thought that 10 sq kilometres of pv tiles enhanced by mirrors in the Sahara could generate enough electricity for the whole of Europe. Inland windfarms are never going to make much difference. But generators out at sea could produce really significant amounts. Coal can be decarbonized by carbon capture and then gasified. There is hydro power and wave power, geothermal energy and even cars powered by air. This is not to mention nuclear power, a wasp’s nest into which just at this moment I do not wish to enter. Artificial bacteria will decarbonize the environment and in the future we might well be eating meat cultured in laboratories and vegetables grown hydroponically in tower blocks in cities. But there is one condition. We have to quit oil a.s.a.p.
The question is not can we but will we. Our problems are mainly three. One is public confusion and apathy, much of it engendered by newspapers. Each of us has a really, really serious obligation to understand the science of climate change in so far as we can, and then ask ourselves: is it likely that the vast majority of climate scientists are wrong? Even if they are, can we afford to assume that they are? Our second problem is investment. To quit oil would require huge expenditure, at a time when the Government is trying to cut down on borrowing. But this vast cost will be nothing beside that of letting climate change do its worst. Even the damage caused by the present floods will take many millions to repair. There is a far greater problem still. In 2012 scientists calculated the world could burn 595 gigatons more of carbon with relative safety. But at the same time a group of accountants called the Tracker Initiative, working not to save the environment but to advise businesses, calculated that oil firms already have nearly 3000 tons of proven reserves of gas and oil, enough, that is, to cook the world several times over. A large fraction of those reserves has already been sold on the futures markets. To leave all that oil in the ground would cause a meltdown in the world’s financial system that would make 2008 look like a minor incident. But in a choice between the world and its financial system there can only be one sane option, whatever the difficulty.
Climate Change is not so much a technical problem as a moral one. A few years ago the climate change group I’m in tried to start a movement called Pantisocracy. The idea was local groups who would try to live the lifestyle we all need to live in a time of climate change, and to spread awareness and concern in their locality. The world was invented by Coleridge and roughly means a world where everybody has a say in their own fate. Actually, we adopted the word for more mundane purposes. Fed up with laying on science lectures to which nobody came, we started a small non-profit making business selling pants and socks. Every garment had a tag on it saying ’Await the great climate catastrophe in our pants and socks, or better still let’s do something about it’. It fizzled out because our supplier wouldn’t keep on supplying so small an order. But the pants and socks were a joke anyway. The important thing is the local groups. How about starting a Pantisocracy group in your area? You can find
out more about it on my website at www.thomj.co.uk
Climate change is not all bad news. Changing our energy base would be so radical we really could create a new and much more caring world, one where everybody has a say in their own fate. Challenging as climate change is, the future is there for the taking. But will we take it?