Wednesday, October 18, 2006

 

Climate Change night response - Am I talking a load of hot air?

Tonight was the “Combat Climate Change” event at Prestwich Arts College. It was great to see a large turnout of over 50 people in the hall. There was a short performance from some of the pupils, and then a panel of speakers including Cllr Vic D’Albert, Cllr Jill Campbell (Sedgley Labour), and representatives from Respect, the Green Party and the Campaign Against Climate Change.

We had a stall, and got a number of signatures backing Lib Dem policies on the environment, which is a great fillip ahead of the Green Action Day planned for this weekend (of which more nearer the time).

Climate Change is certainly a major issue for a lot of people. I know that some doubt the science, but everyone must agree that it’s certainly at the forefront of our politicians’ minds these days. And tonight the people of Prestwich leant their voice to the clamour for action to stop what may well become the biggest disaster facing mankind. Climate Change has the potential to irreparably damage our economy and our society; to cause conflicts across the world, and to change the planet forever. It was uplifting to see that so many people are motivated enough by the issue to give up an evening for the cause.

The debate tonight was wide-ranging and interesting, but I felt it lacked serious consideration of how best to tailor any solution to the problem to fit our current lifestyles. A failure to consider a realistic way of making everyone comfortable with “green” solutions. After all, they will only come to pass if lots of people vote for them.

There was much spoken about the evils of oil companies and car companies, and of the failures of Western governments to live up to their obligations to the planet. But there wasn’t much said about the positives that oil and cars have brought to our lives, and what the realistic prospects of us actually giving these things up are. Nobody will vote to give up their cars permanently, or vote for a party that advocates it. So many of the people tonight were hostile to cars and oil, without considering how we could work with energy companies and motor manufacturers to come up with cleaner alternatives without making unreasonable and unworkable changes to lifestyle, which voters will never stand for.

I think this is a failure of many environmental campaigners. Whilst their ideas are fantastic in theory, they fail to consider the practicalities of implementing them in a complicated world where the human race has generated wealth, health and comfort beyond its wildest dreams in the last two centuries for so many people. Some of them can work now – widespread micro-generation, for instance – but why advocate the banning of cars when surely campaigning for investment in clean cars is the way forward? We need to work with big business to make being green profitable. And the way to do this is to make green policies fit in, not stand opposed to society’s progress and our comfortable lifestyles. It might be selfish, but I think it’s realistic.

A reasonable, rational approach to climate change policy, where bloody-minded polluters too lazy to use easily accessible alternative are punished, and realistic alternatives invested in, is the best was forward in my opinion. Those tonight advocating illegal direct action, mass-protest and the abandonment of market forces do nothing to further the cause. They present the environmentalist movement as a freakish collective of tree-huggers, whereas in fact, I imagine most rational people share their general concerns.

It was a good event tonight, and hopefully the first of many. But I think we must be careful to work with the institutions, methods, people and businesses that have made British life so great in the twenty-first century. Together we can address climate change this way. It might take a bit longer, but investment in technologies to accomplish change without undue compromise is the only sustainable way of doing anything, and ensuring that the rest of the world follows suit.

Comments:
Good call, Richard.
I agree with most of what you write except the 'It may be selfish, but ...realistic' bit.
It would only be selfish to say I would only be prepared to spare excess burdens on future generations to whatever extent that doesn't lower my perceived state of progress and comfort, if I don't believe that this will be enough. (in short: only selfish if I don't think certain steps will be enough, but am only willing to go that far).
I believe that inefficiency has become our greatest luxury and we don't even value it! Just one example: I regularly see people walking with heavy shopping for about a mile along a busy road, while almost every car travelling that route has at least one seat free. Even if the driver shared his luxury more (and sharing with other drivers would then lower the number of cars), the technology itself is very wasteful. My favourite local runaround is a two-seater, comfortable electric car which does the equivalent of 270 mpg (energy use in-vehicle).
Clean(er) cars and a more social use of them is perfectly possible. Cars don't need to be banned, as many at your meeting seemed to think.

The questions I am trying to tackle are: what changes of perception are possible and can renewable energies provide the power with the right level of convenience for us to be able to run our lives comfortably? (so it's not a case of "no love, I can't cook dinner at the moment 'cos the wind's not blowing".

I believe that with our current global population (and sea levels)this is still achieveable, but we need to get a grip on things NOW!
 
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