Paul Brown’s talk at the public meeting on climate changem, 16 November 2019
Paul Brown is the former Guardian environment correspondent
Paul started by remarking that we had just been listening to a scientist, and one of his criticisms of scientists is that they are far too cautious; they have been under attack for the last twenty years from the fossil fuel lobby, and their careers have often been blighted because they’ve stuck their heads up. He was going to tell it like it is, rather than being cautious.
Disastrous climate change is already happening, and man is damaging the planet in all sorts of other ways. We have been overusing chemicals , and we’ve seen massive extinction of species, particularly the loss of insects that pollinate our food crops. If we kill the all, we’ll kill ourselves as well.
We are now seeing climate change in action – dramatic bush fires in Australia, following years of terrible drought; similar fires in California; most of Venice under water because of exceptional high tides and sea level rise; and the second so-called hundred-year flood in the Midlands. Weather patterns have changed; we should expect a lot more of these devastating floods.
In advanced countries, particularly Australia, the United States and the UK, scientists are saying that these extremes of climate change are happening now, and we need to factor them in to our daily lives. They are saying that by 2030, these kind of events will be even more violent, and commonplace. Yet none of the governments of these three countries are taking action on climate change seriously, or anywhere near fast enough. And worse than that: the Australian government has not produced an action plan at all to tackle climate change, and is intent on opening vast new coal mines that will inevitably make their own heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires worse, and everybody else’s, as well.
In America, president Trump has pulled out commitments to do anything about climate change all together, and has spent the last three years reversing US environmental legislation built up over the last two decades.
In the UK, the government’s actions to avert climate crisis are grossly inadequate. We are not going to meet our climate targets. The UK government claims it is making progress on climate change, but fails to include emissons from air travel or shipping in its total
Elsewhere in the world, Brazil’s ruling class seems intent on burning down the Amazon to supply the world with beef and soya.
Most nations will fail to meet the climate targets they signed up to in 2015 at the Paris climate talks, and the world is going to miss its target of keeping temperature increases down to two degrees, let alone the much more desirable one and a half degrees. We are already at 1° more than preindustrial levels, and we are facing climate extremes. The rise is likely to reach 3° C by the end of the century. This will already have caused irreversible damage, including sea levels rising by a metre, drowning many of the vital food growing areas of the world, including much of East Anglia.
The message is simple: if the human race is to survive, we’ve got our work cut out. This really is an emergency, and we need to do something about it now.
We have the solutions in our hands; we have already developed the technologies to save ourselves. All we lack is the political will to implement them.
Paul went on to mention some recent developments and reasons to be cheerful.
The price of electricity produced by solar power and wind power is now less than fossil fuels. It is now economically crazy for the world to burn fossil fuels when solar and wind are cheaper.
We could produce enough electricity from offshore windfarms in the North Sea to provide electricity for the whole of Europe. Each wind turbine now produces twelve times as much power as it did ten years ago. Similarly, solar power is now 80% cheaper than it was a decade ago.
What a terrible waste of resources nuclear power is, and our government’s preoccupation with it is driving our addressing climate change badly off course. If we opt for nuclear power, we will have lost the battle on climate change. .
The better news is that despite president Trump’s subsidies for both coal and nuclear generation, the companies that own these power stations are going bust in the United States because even existing power plants cannot compete on price with new wind and solar.
Texas, the oil capital of America, has a fantastic number of windfarms because they outcompete oil.
Another bright spot is batteries – in the last five years, battery technology has come on in leaps and bounds. Prices have dropped 70%.
We also have other non-battery technologies which make nonsense of the claim that intermittency of renewables is a problem.
Green hydrogen produced by renewables is one of the fuels of the future, with huge investment in it in the last twelve months
Electric lorries, cars, buses and bikes are now a practical proposition.
Buildings can be made energy efficient. That energy efficiency in all its forms has always made economic sense. Even without our government doing anything to help, the use of electricity in this country has been going down every year for the last ten years because of EU regulations on light bulbs, fridges, boilers and other appliances we use in our homes, making them more efficient than they used to be.
Now we come to the difficult bit. Our politicians have not got the message, at least the ones that are currently in power, not just here in the UK, but in many other countries throughout the world. Many of them are stuck in 20th-century thinking and are not up to the challenge.
But there is some hope: many people are getting the message. Greta Thunberg has started a school revolution. Adults are joining in too, in the UK-inspired Extinction Rebellion. Some people dislike the these groups’ tactics, but before they started taking direct action no one was talking about the climate. Now they are. The coming generations have at least some chance of a better life through the school strikes and the Extinction Rebellion protests. So that is where we come in. We all have a civic duty to do our bit.
We can take action in two spheres. First of all, there are small but important actions we can all do in our own lives.
A few examples: save energy, shop locally, eat less meat, reuse or recycle, cycle or walk or take public transport rather than drive, try to avoid flying, sell your gas-guzzling car and get a smaller one, preferably a hybrid or electric.
As individuals or as a community we can invest in renewable energies, solar or heat pumps.
For example, a junior school in Somerset went into partnership two years ago with a local energy cooperative to place solar panels on its roof space, and is now saving four thousand a year. Good for the school budget, but what matters is the educational value for teachers and children at the school.
Are we spending our money as consumers in the right places, and indeed spending our time for the cause? For example, getting involved in tree planting and looking after our local environment.
But more than that, we need to take political action. We must pressurise not only politicians, but also the people who run companies, banks and shops. What really works, is putting pressure on decision-makers. Ask your MP, local councillors, company directors, people managing your pension fund, difficult questions about what they’re doing on climate. Ask repeatedly for answers, and don’t take no for an answer.
Politically, a very important milestone is coming up next year when the UK plays host at the 2020 climate talks in Glasgow. We need to make sure the UK government takes a lead..
The situation is still not hopeless; but we need to act, and act now.