A Significant Year

November 13th, 2019

Today is my first grandson’s first birthday – a special (& emotional) day…. Doing this project, I have to believe I might be improving the world very slightly for him and all our grandchildren.

Some good news to celebrate: the International Energy Agency is predicting a boom in solar energy in Africa, which could connect hundreds of millions of new African homes to electricity. This could leapfrog the fossil fuel dependency of other industrialised regions. Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, urged Africa’s leaders to take advantage of the sun and of mining the raw minerals needed to make electric and hydrogen batteries. Of course, there are issues that need monitoring such as the exploitation of vulnerable workers doing the mining; and unlimited population growth across the whole world is unsustainable, a really delicate topic…

On a more immediate and local scale, the world’s first rubbish barrier made entirely from bubbles has been unveiled in Amsterdam, in an attempt to catch waste in the city’s canals before it reaches the North Sea. Philip Ehrhorn, the co-inventor of the technology, said: “More than two-thirds of plastics in the ocean come out of rivers and canals, so why not intercept it there?” The bubble barrier is a long, perforated tube running diagonally across the bottom of the canal. Compressed air is pumped through the tube and rises upwards, and then the natural water current helps to push waste to one side.

Of course, even better if production of throw-away plastic decreased dramatically at source; but excellent there are such inventive people out there…!

Now to the biggest environmental news of the week: a global group of around 11,000 scientists, of all types and varieties from 153 countries, have endorsed research that says the world is facing a climate emergency. 

The study, based on 40 years of data on a range of measures, says governments are failing to address the crisis.

Without deep and lasting changes, the world is facing “untold human suffering” the study says.

The researchers say they have a moral obligation to warn of the scale of the threat.

Some progress has been seen in some areas. For example, renewable energy has grown significantly, with consumption of wind and solar increasing 373% per decade – but it was still 28 times smaller than fossil fuel use in 2018.

Taken together, the researchers say most of their vital signs indicators are going in the wrong direction and add up to a climate emergency.

“An emergency means that if we do not act or respond to the impacts of climate change by reducing our carbon emissions, the impacts will likely be more severe than we’ve experienced to date,” said lead author Dr Thomas Newsome, from the University of Sydney.

“That could mean there are areas on Earth that are not inhabitable by people.”

The researchers show six areas in which immediate steps should be taken that could make a major difference.

Energy: Politicians should impose carbon fees high enough to discourage the use of fossil fuels, they should end subsidies to fossil fuel companies and implement massive conservation practices while also replacing oil and gas with renewables.

Short-lived pollutants: These include methane, hydrofluorocarbons and soot – the researchers say that limiting these has the potential to cut the short-term warming trend by 50% over the next few decades.

Nature: Stop land clearing, restore forests, grasslands and mangroves which would all help to sequester CO2.

Food: A big dietary shift is needed say researchers so that people eat mostly plants and consumer fewer animal products. Reducing food waste is also seen as critical.

Economy: Convert the economy’s reliance on carbon fuels – and change away from growing the world’s gross domestic product and pursuing affluence.

Population: The world needs to stabilise the global population which is growing by around 200,000 a day.

This is the bit that makes me determined to ‘fight the corner’ for Extinction Rebellion and the school strikers: the researchers are very disappointed because multiple climate conferences and assemblies have failed to produce meaningful action. 

HOWEVER, they believe that the growing, global protest movement offers hope.

“We are encouraged by a recent global surge of concern – governments adopting new policies; schoolchildren striking; lawsuits proceeding; and grassroots citizen movements demanding change.

“As scientists, we urge widespread use of the vital signs and hope the graphical indicators will better allow policymakers and the public to understand the magnitude of the crisis, realign priorities and track progress.”

There is a five-part series on the BBC which gives hope – Climate Defenders highlights people who are leading the battle to protect the planet. One of these is Durwood Zaelke, an environmental lawyer behind the Kigali (Rwanda) Climate Treaty. This important treaty has been adopted by American industrialists, despite Trump’s determination to reverse climate protection laws. It is successfully phasing out hydrofluorocarbons.

Zaelke was an activist during the action in the US against the Vietnam war – he recognises that students and young people have power to change things. He and his granddaughter celebrate the need for anger and motivation, keeping their demands high. As he says: “If we don’t solve this problem, we won’t be able to solve the others, of poverty and peace.”

Anger is a very tricky ‘weapon’ here… Anger directed at governments and people with power and influence is completely understandable and hopefully effective. Anger inadvertently produced in individuals is counter-productive. As my friend Wendy has said about my blog, it sounds as if I’m shouting: ‘Why doesn’t someone do something?” And I am, it’s true! I’m writing to individuals in a very measured human way, appealing to their consciences and human nature I hope…; but I am angry at the same time!

I was interviewed by BBC’s Midland Today, on a bus, for a feature about rural public transport, ahead of the general election. The reporter told me he had reported from road block protests staged by Extinction Rebellion Worcester. He said XR had been the target of lots of abuse. One woman, held up on her way to a supermarket said: “Haven’t they got anything better to do? They want to get a job.” Makes you despair…! Maybe a large part of human nature is selfishness…. Protesters just get in the way, and anger follows… I so respect members of XR who patiently and calmly explain what they’re doing..

Now, as a little aside/coda, Ben Elton replied to me, very positively. I’ve just read his ‘Time and Time Again’ novel (appropriate in the week of Remembrance Day, it’s about trying to change history by preventing the First World War). Part of it is set in 2024 (written in 2014) – an imagined age of no seasons in this country, food shortages and climate change refugees… We need to stop that vision coming true.

2 thoughts on “A Significant Year

  1. You have inspired me, I am now also writing letters, I get my daughter to read them and try and tame down my anger. I am angry, very angry, especially over what has been happening here in Australia. I am also angry about the way politicians here are attacking concerned citizens all while the country burns in a bushfire apocalypse that is linked to climate change. A few weeks ago a consortium of concerned emergency service leaders, current and former heads of fire services or state emergency services, tried to get a meeting with the prime minister and cabinet to warn about the looming disaster that has now arrived and they were refused a meeting, no one listened to the increasingly desperate pleas by climate scientists and emergency and disaster experts and that makes me very angry. The bushfire crisis in Australia costs lives and homes but just as importantly it will push species into extinction. Sorry if I sound angry and I do modify what I say in normal circumstances but I feel able to share my anger with you.
    Even my normally conservative husband who was initially critical of extinction rebellion has come around to the sense of urgency and has said while he might not participate in a protest that causes disruption he will support me and will also protest in a less disruptive way.


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