Saturday, January 1, 2000
Climate Change Lecture Derby
Peter started by reminding us of our obligations to future generations "The Fierce Urgency of Now". If you are lucky enough to have grandchildren, it reminds you starkly of the risks they face in the future. In all other aspects of life, we take precautions when we see a risk, we don't wait until after the house burns down before taking out insurance. The Stern Review of 2006 makes an economic case for taking care to combat climate change now, rather cheaper than waiting until after the disasters have occurred (and when major climate-responsible ones do occur, such as the floods in Pakistan does it affect public opinion in USA and UK? probably not...)
We are getting close to a point in time... a parting of the ways... that future historians will look back to and say "in that decade, when CO2 levels were ***, that would have been the time to finally face up to the risk, the runaway effect started then". Once the runaway effect occurs, the time scale will be hundreds of human generations, as occurred with previous climate cycles. A Zero Carbon approach will be tackling both Peak oil and Climate Change, interlinked issues, both urgent.
Different countries are at different stages - the developed world is burning more than the planet can support, but is recognising it has to cut back energy consumption, the middle world is enjoying its new affluence, and the developing world expects to reach a higher standard of living in the future - all 'high standards of living' involve high energy consumption.
What effect can dear little Britain have? a mere 2% of the population? Well.... with climate change we are not one single country in an air tight box. All countries share the same air, so we must all be concerned, and if we wait for the others, nothing will happen. Some countries (i.e.the UK), the ones who consume MOST should be leading by example and a bit of self sacrifice (some energy abstinence).
Hence, the Zero Carbon Britain 2030 report presented to the government in 2010. We can identify three main tasks, 1. the Reduction of demand for energy, 2, Improved delivery of Zero carbon energy supply, and 3. Net negative processes to reverse the levels of CO2 such as planting and sequestration.
The first one, which influences our actions and decisions is TO POWER DOWN! UK buildings and construction are more than half the CO2 emission, we need not just ecohouses, but to retrofit every building in the country, millions of which are insufficiently insulated. We need a shift in our Transport, to use more public transport, travel less, avoid air transport, more trains, more sharing and cycling. We need to rethink the generation of Electricity - much more wind power (on a large scale, enough to overcome intermittency), develop ways of storing energy, e.g. with heatpumps, and we should consider a European Supergrid - for example, solar power delivered by the hot southern countries, hydro from the north and wind power from the coastal countries, and sharing of nuclear if we have to have it.
Local generation, such as domestic PV is important for stabilising grid and reducing transmission losses.
For the UK, there is an abundance of Wind in the North sea, and if the country invested as much in that as it did in the oil rigs of the 80s and 90s, there would be a source of energy that could never run out. Electric cars are improving in performance, image and range. Hydrogen - which the US favours - is a great technology, but it has been promised for the last 40 years and still seems to be in a state of infancy, with so little delivered or accepted.
Agriculture is a major user of energy, but crop production uses vastly less energy and land than meat production. More land could be devoted to Biomass farming if we grew less meat, and crop growing reduces CO2 levels. The overpopulation of grazing animals emit Methane and Nitrous Oxide, both greenhouse gases. We have managed a paradigm change in land use before - in the early 1900s much of our land was still devoted to horses, our previous prime form of transport. We made a major change in 100 years - much of the land devoted to airports, motorways, transport depots, and large scale farming, with the space for horses statistically negligible. Peter brought up the idea of Carbon Farming - a policy of financial incentives for farmers to grow crops not animals.
One of the problems for the environmental movement, in our efforts to influence government, is that we have conflicting objectives, perhaps because we interpret 'environment' differently. We may all want to stop global warming, but some will also say Nuclear No Thanks, others to Save our Land from Wind Turbines, others No to Trams or No to Tidal barrages. Some propose Carbon Offsetting, but does that work? Some propose Carbon Capture and storage (whatever the cost) but does that work? Could Biofuels enable us to continue our consumptive lifestyle - we think not! Can Lifestyle changes bring down energy consumption? yes, but who is the first to turn off the lights? Can we invest in giant geo-engineering schemes to get heat from below?
But in the face of the major hazards ahead, we should be prepared to consider Every possible option, have no taboo about discussing them, we have to be prepared to compromise our faith or opinions if necessary to achieve the larger target.
A full copy of the Zero Carbon 2030 book is available free as a PDF on line.
David NC writes: I hope you enjoyed this summary of Peter's talk, now I hope you will enjoy seeing the full copy of the document on line!
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