Professor Nick Goddard of carbon offsetting organisation, CarbonApproved.com, exposes some of the myths surrounding climate change and looks at how best to tackle green issues – both now and in the future
The last few years have seen environmental issues climb steadily higher on political policy agendas and have come to the forefront of public discussion – as buzzwords such as ‘climate change’, ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘food miles’ have become a permanent fixture in our everyday vocabulary.
However, the term ‘climate change’ has generated much ill informed and sensationalist discussion. Indeed, it is not climate change per se which gives rise to concern as climate, by its very nature, is changing continuously.
The British climate in the 11th and 12th Centuries was certainly warmer than it is today, but was quickly followed by a succession of storms and tempests, followed by a period of cooling which was known as the ‘little ice age’. It is the trend of climate since the 19th Century’s industrial revolution in the western world which has been identified as a problem and has generated the view that the current rate of ‘global warming’ may render much of human life as we know it unsustainable if concerted action is not taken within a short timescale.
Pointing the finger of blame
There is an unfortunate tendency among some politicians and campaigners with a radical green agenda to link every extreme climatic event to global warming. The intense localised floods of the past few years in Cornwall, the West Midlands and Cumbria, for example, is no proof of climatic change anymore than a couple of successive moderately cold winters detract from the warming hypothesis. It is often the case that the adverse consequences of extreme natural events are exacerbated by such issues as poor land management, inappropriate development or lack of preparation.
While there is alternative evidence (which is arguably sometimes suppressed), the balance of informed scientific opinion is that rapid global warming is underway as a result of the increased discharge of what are known as ‘greenhouse gases’ (carbon dioxide, but also methane and nitrous oxides), following the increased consumption of fossil fuels brought in by the industrial revolution. The scientific consensus is that urgent action is needed to reduce CO2 emissions in particular, if potentially catastrophic changes to global climate are to be avoided.
A top priority
Political parties of all persuasions now take carbon reduction very seriously indeed and the 2008 change of administration in the US has given further impetus to the worldwide movement to tackle adverse climatic change. The current UK coalition government has confirmed ambitious (some would say too ambitious), targets for carbon reduction originally set by the opposition, and businesses increasingly have to comply with a ‘green agenda’.
It is right to be sceptical about the motives of some green campaigners and surveys reveal that public opinion is understandably, far from convinced about the reality of global warming. After all, the environmental concern of politicians often comes across as an excuse to impose still more taxation. Yet even if individually we may remain unconvinced, the weight of evidence is such that carbon reduction is an urgent necessity if only on the precautionary principle.
Apocalyptic warnings are counter-productive – neither do we need to adopt a ‘hair shirt’ mentality in order to achieve carbon savings. In a world of high energy prices it makes sense for both businesses and individuals to reduce their ‘carbon footprints’ by relatively simple measures that can often enhance our quality of life. Do we really need products to be so highly packaged? Would it not be desirable for more children to walk or bicycle to school? Do we not enjoy the delights of local and seasonal food? And, if we cannot be truly ‘carbon neutral’, carbon offsetting, whereby investment is made in projects such as tree planting to counter CO2 emissions, can involve some really worthwhile environmental activities. Who knows, we might even yet ‘save the planet’.
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