When the north wind blows
Can anything change us?
Happisburgh near Norwich, courtesy of NationalWorld
For those who have been reading my weekly missives for a while, thank you. You may have also noticed a recent trend, focus drawn more to climate change. Less so on the tragedy of what might happen, more on some of the amazing science and discovery which might help to mitigate what is already in motion.
I’m a science optimist and truly believe that humanity can survive. As a realist, I also expect our future or more likely my grandchildren’s future to require significant sacrifice. New discovery and development will help, but it won’t provide the get-out-of-jail card to conveniently carry on living the way we have been until now. I’m referring too developed, first world country populations primarily.
I want to consider a terrifying and morbidly fascinating question which has been bugging me - what has to happen here in the UK, Europe and the US, to change our attitudes towards how we live and the environment we live in? When does Flygskam (flight shame movement in Sweden) become front of mind, if ever, and we choose to think about alternative plans rather than choosing to fly? Flying is an easy behaviour to pick on. It uses 90% more carbon than the train per passenger and Britains love it, more than any other nation in 2018. We could help future generations by changing behaviour and do less of it, or we can continue as we are and wait for a higher authority to intervene.
How scary does it need to get?
Perhaps the real question is, how threatened do our lives have to feel before we really start listening to the scientists and support the changes that are needed? I would include governments in the question, but they’ve been reliably consistent in pushing back on the pledges signed-up to at COP 26. It seems if we do leave it to our elected authorities, which seem more interested in protecting shareholder profits than the environment, it will be too little too late.
The consequences will be harsh. Expect draconian rules like those experienced recently during the recent pandemic to be introduced, except they won’t fall away in a year or two, they’ll be here for decades, directed at carbon polluters and the containment of consumerism. The current rich first world population would see such restrictions as severe hardship and punishment. Let’s hope future generations learn to live by a different set of rules and expectations, where the cost is not extracted from the less fortunates or our environment.
Sea level rise - “the hardest of all inconvenient truths”
My thoughts about threatening developments, stemmed from the warnings issued recently by Sir James Bevan, the head of the UK’s Environment Agency. By 2050, sea levels on English coasts are forecast to be 35cm higher than they are today, (ice cap melt) forcing whole communities to be moved inland.
Estimates from the Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia, is 200,000 homes and businesses risk abandonment. Unlike river flooding, where improvements can be made later, coastal erosion is permanent. Choices will have to be made on a rising tide, which means coastal cities are far more likely to continue being protected, smaller communities, when the money runs out, will have no choice other than to relocate. But stories of lost houses on cliffs crumbling into the sea, is nothing new.
The highest risk sites are: Happisburgh (Norwich), Kessingland (Lowestoft), Hornsea (Hull), Withernsea (East Yorks) and Sunderland.
For those likely to be effected, it’s a tragedy. For the majority of us, it will be nothing more than a news story, the details of cause and hardship diminishing quickly, like the on-going war in Ukraine.
We need a disaster
Like a popular disaster movie, we need something on a meteoric scale to happen to bring us all to our senses, not a crumbling coastline being nibbled at on a spring tide. And given that the US is responsible for a quarter of all the carbon in the atmosphere, can it happen there? I jest.
Despite freak weather patterns, increasingly frequent heatwaves occurring earlier, forest fires, droughts that last years; like all good films, the sane majority must continue to deny the seriousness of the situation until it’s nearly too late. Is that time upon us?
How green is my valley?
My research this week led to a sad realisation and conclusion. The environmental lobby has long been split into two camps. For 30 years, a lot more noise and PR money has been spent on renewable energy being the safe alternative to our current carbon-thirsty world. The goal being to maintain a world in pursuit of increased gross domestic product (GDP) ignoring other worthy outcomes like a clean environment, sustaining habitats and growing enough food to feed the world’s population.
Perversely, the renewables industry will be the number one cause of habitat destruction by 2050, according to Bright Green Lies. The authors of the book and film argue the necessity to look beyond the technology and ask deeper questions about what has to change?
We will need to change the way we live. Each of us taking more responsibility, from who we vote for, to how we get from A to B. Thinking about my own situation, driving my hired electric car for months on end, with halo in tact, is not the solution, at least not while it requires mining in order to provide the lithium needed to fuel the battery. Just because there are zero emissions at the point of use, it is still a car, with all the issues associated with manufacturing one, just missing a petrol tank and pistons.
The question I need to be asking is what can I do differently? Why do I need a car all year - why not rent one occasionally? I have a wonderful friend in Denmark who didn’t own a car until his early thirties. My grandfather, born in the 1890s never learnt to drive, preferring to walk everywhere. Somehow, they got by with a smile on their face.
One answer is not to make the same mistake twice. We eventually stop mining coal at some point this century, only to gradually replace it with rare earth mining on an even bigger scale, disrupting and destroying more of our environment. Worse still, there are already discussions to mine deep sea trenches to capture these precious components, nodules sitting on the seabed for green tech solutions. This has the potential to upset the plankton which produce two thirds of the earth’s oxygen.
If change is the answer, then bright green environmentalists need to stop focusing on how we perpetuate, preserve and fuel our industrial lifestyles. We need to ask a different question - how to create a better world, which starts with sharing and connecting.
It’s never been easier.