In the face of all the evidence, the average person in the street seems more interested in celebrity scandals.
“I’d like a wake-up call”, says the man in the cartoon. “Certainly sir,” comes the response, “the seven hottest days on Earth in the last 100,000 years all happened in the last week.”
The seven hottest days. Yes, the heatwave in the Mediterranean has made the news in the UK, and to a lesser extent the heatwave in the US and the wildfires in Canada. Yet the UK news media has been more concerned about celebrity scandals than imminent climate collapse.
Hello, I’m Anthony Day with the Sustainable Futures Report for Thursday 20th July. I make no excuse for looking at the problem from a UK perspective even though I know many listeners are spread across the world.
I'm frequently told, mainly by people who refuse to believe that the climate emergency is real, that the UK accounts for less than 1% of global emissions so whatever we do will have a negligible effect on the health of a planet. So why bother? But the UK still has a global reputation and if we can’t be bothered to take action why should other countries do so? Of course as major polluters the US and China are far bigger, accounting for some 44% between them. That leaves about 190 countries, most of them accounting for far less than 1% but together responsible for 56% of the total. Every one makes a difference and has a part to play. No country can claim a free ride. Certainly not the UK. As a pioneer of industrialisation this country has been polluting the atmosphere - and the land and the sea - for far longer than most.
When asked why climate emergency did not feature in his five pledges, the UK prime minister said that this was not an issue among the people’s priorities. Interesting that he claims to know what the people’s priorities are when he hasn't fought an election on them. He went on to say how we could relax because Britain was a world leader in decarbonisation and climate action. This contradicts the recent report from the Climate Change Committee, which complained that since COP26, the government had lost its way, and lost its international leadership of the climate issue. It listed multiple examples of where the government was failing to meet its objectives. It comes in a week when the government faced strong criticism for its third National Adaptation Programme. Critics pointed out that £5.2bn investment in new flood and coastal defences had already been announced in 2020, several other projects had also been previously announced and most of the plans were very vague.
This week, the Mediterranean region is suffering a dangerous heat wave. Dangerous because of the temperatures reached, and dangerous because of the persistent high temperatures over several days and nights.
The Yale School of the Environment warns that Europe is warming faster than any other inhabited continent, with rising temperatures fuelling increasingly severe heat waves, floods, and wildfires, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization and the Copernicus Climate Change Service. I was reporting in the Sustainable Futures Report some 10 years ago the prediction that the Mediterranean region would become uninhabitable. I don't think anybody expected it to happen so quickly, and of course this may be a blip and next year may be back to normal. But it’s on trend.
In the United States one third of the nation’s population has been warned of risks from heatwaves. Graphs from the United States Environmental Protection Agency show a constant upward trend in the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves from the 1960s to the 2020s.
It is always dangerous to confuse weather with climate, but global trends are clear. While we in the UK are outside the weather system which is causing this heatwave in the Mediterranean and therefore we are enjoying a rather mediocre summer, it's easy to overlook the fact that heatwaves in some areas and catastrophic floods in others can have consequences for us here. The UK imports over 50% of its food. It has to be grown somewhere and if agriculture is affected by extreme weather, the UK will not escape the consequences.
Low Agricultural Yields
An article in the journal nature communications warns that “risks of synchronised low yields are underestimated in climate and crop model projections.” The authors write that “Simultaneous harvest failures across major crop-producing regions are a threat to global food security,” and go on to explain that “…a strongly meandering jet stream could trigger such events, but so far this has not been quantified.” This week Russia announced that it would not renew its guarantee of safe passage to ships leaving Ukrainian ports loaded with grain. Ukraine of course is one of the world’s biggest grain producers and this will inevitably also have an affect on the global food supply.
Don’t Look Up
Maybe Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is right. Maybe people aren't really concerned about the consequences of climate change. Some argue that we are psychologically conditioned to react to immediate dangers like a charging tiger, and we don't see longer term risks as important. Last year's film Don't Look Up showed how people could refuse to believe in what was a clear and obvious danger. A form of self preservation perhaps. Others claim that the fossil fuel industry is following the tobacco industry and confusing the debate and using marketing tactics to encourage people to ignore the facts. Let's keep on pumping oil to fuel the transition to low carbon living. Let's not worry about it till 2050.
Managing the Message
It's time for climate campaigners and scientists to rethink how the message is presented. There is still widespread misunderstanding of what is actually going on and how it works. Many people are still confused by terms like 1.5°C, Net Zero 2050 and decarbonisation. Global warming sounds comfortable and cuddly with the promise of better summers. Chris Packham, who this week launched his series entitled Earth on BBC 2, says no to global warming and no to climate change. It’s a climate crisis or climate emergency. And let’s not talk about extinctions. They are exterminations, because it is human activity, regardless of consequences, that is driving some species out of existence.
Just Stop Oil
Just Stop Oil, which followed its activities at Wimbledon with an intervention at the BBC Proms, a high-profile festival of classical music, and by disrupting more London traffic by slow marching, were criticised on Breakfast TV. In an interview with Chris Packham, Richard Madeley complained about climate protests, but was branded hypocritical by viewers when he went on to talk about extreme weather in Sicily without making the connection.
Our role has to be to make the climate message understandable and acceptable to all. We’ll need to change society’s expectations and we need to do this urgently. And not only to make people favour new sources of energy like onshore wind and SMRs (small modular nuclear reactors). These things will take too long. We need to work on the demand side, to encourage people to drive smaller cars and keep them longer, to insulate their homes, to fly less and so on and so on - all things that can have an immediate effect.
I'll come back to this in future episodes.
An announcement came this week that Tata, the parent company of Jaguar Land Rover, will build a battery giga factory in Somerset, in the south-west of England. This is all part of the belief that the electric vehicle is the future and as well that the car, personal transport, is the future. I personally doubt that, but that’s another story. We’ll come back to EVs in a minute.
The UK has an infrastructure problem. It's become increasingly clear over recent months that the nation’s water and sewage treatment systems are not fit for purpose and require multibillion pound repair, refurbishment and expansion. Many hospitals and school buildings require urgent repairs, as well as existing roads. One of the problems is the lack of skilled labour.
I've mentioned HS2, the high-speed rail line from London to the North, before. The original plan was to create a high-speed link from London via Birmingham in the Midlands to Manchester in the north-west, and Leeds in the central North. Little by little the plan has been pulled back or postponed. Now we are left with a line which will run from London to Birmingham, but to save money it will not initially run to central London but to a former goods depot on the outskirts. Despite this, it is a major use of skilled labour which could surely be better deployed away from the 300 HS2 sites which are currently in progress, and used to repair those schools and hospitals and sewers, and even build those new nuclear power stations, which we are promised.
A paper from the MCS charitable foundation reports that heat pumps are being installed 10 times as fast in France, as they are in the UK. This is one of the policy failures highlighted by the Climate Change Committee. MCS, the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, points out that the UK has only 2,000 jobs supported by the heat pump industry, but this would need to rise to 50,000 to achieve the target of 600,000 heat pumps installed annually.
Bringing us back to the electric vehicle issue; I was planning a trip into Leeds, a major city in the north of England, at the weekend. I wanted to know where I could charge my electric car. There are four criteria in finding a charge point.
First of all, is the charge point open to the public? There are maps which show all the charge points, but some are at private houses or on commercial premises or in hotel carparks and not accessible.
Secondly, will it have the right sort of plug? There are three in common use and you need one that will fit your car. You also need to know whether it is tethered, which means it has a cable which you plug into your car. If it is not tethered, you need to bring a cable with you to plug into your car and then plug into the charge point.
The third point is what it costs and how you pay for it. Some charging points are free, although not many. Those that charge, generally charge far more for the electricity than you would pay if you were charging at home from your domestic supply. Some charge points accept a credit card, others require you to become a member of their network and use the card that they issue and then there are still others which require you to download an app to enable you to operate the charge point. I've heard horror stories of people faced with this last type of unit, and finding that within the depths of the concrete car park where the unit is located, there is no mobile signal.
And the final issue is the rate at which a unit will charge your car. My research in Leeds showed that the vast majority of units would run at 7 kW. Obviously it will vary from car to car, but one kilowatt hour delivers roughly enough charge for 5 miles motoring. This means that it will take one hour for a 7 kW unit to give you 35 miles. Fine if you plan to stay overnight, but not really very useful if you're on your way somewhere. I did find some, not many, 22 kW units, but user reports stated that they frequently ran at a much lower rate, so you could be getting only 7 kW. And they were in car parks so you had to pay for parking as well as for charging.
And the final dilemma which people came across was that they found that if they left the car on charge for more than two hours, the unit would lock the cable in and they had to get hold of the charging company’s head office to get them to send the maintenance team to release it. In Leeds at least, I hardly think we are ready for the electric car. I won't be going by train instead because there is industrial action this weekend. I'll have to take my petrol hybrid car.
Open Letter - Inequality
More than 200 academics and politicians led by Joseph Stiglitz, Professor of economics at Columbia university and former Chief Economist at the World Bank, this week sent an Open Letter to the United Nations Secretary-General and President of the World Bank-Setting Serious Goals to Combat Inequality.
“As a group of economists and leaders in the fight against extreme inequalities from around the world, we write to request your leadership towards ensuring that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the World Bank back vital new strategic goals and indicators, that can redouble efforts to address rising extreme inequality.
“We are living through a time of extraordinarily high economic inequality. Extreme poverty and extreme wealth have risen sharply and simultaneously for the first time in 25 years. Between 2019 and 2020, global inequality grew more rapidly than at any time since WW2. The richest 10% of the global population currently takes 52% of global income, whereas the poorest half of the population earns 8.5% of it. Billions of people face the terrible hardship of high and rising food prices and hunger, whilst the number of billionaires has doubled in the last decade…”
In closing they say,
“Goals matter. Leadership matters. The Bank and UN SDGs are uniquely placed to offer the rallying call for a reduction in inequality that our divided world needs so urgently today. We ask you to seize this opportunity to back stronger goals and better metrics for both wealth and income, as well as wage shares of national income. Also, SDG10 [UN Sustainable Development Goal No.10, Reduce inequality within and among countries] is not a separate, standalone goal: all economic, financial, and social policies should be assessed in terms of their likely impact on this goal. This would clearly signal our collective ambition to forge a more equal world.”
There’s a link to the full text on the website.
Before I go…
The Twitter Truth
I had my hair cut this week. The barber was a fount of information. He told me that the heatwave in the Mediterranean is all caused by the Gulf Stream. He also told me that oil is not a fossil fuel. It must be true - he found all this information on Twitter.
We’re going to have to work hard to change beliefs.
And that’s it…
That’s it for another week and there will be another episode next week. After that we’ll be in August and we'll see what happens.
Thank you for listening,
Thank you for your support, especially if you are a patron, and thank you for your feedback and ideas.
I'm Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.
National Adaptation Programme
Risk to Harvests
Chris Packham on TV
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