Climate Change: the Buried Agenda

Currently, the developed world seems content to accept that financial stringency is a price worth paying for bankers’ excesses. Meanwhile, anyone advocating strategies to meet the cost of mitigation and adaptation climate change are close to being vilified as scaremongering extremists. Yet, it seems that multinational corporations by and large accept the prognoses of the Stern report (http://bit.ly/1cdiDDx), and are examining strategies to protect their resource inputs and supply chains for the future (http://bit.ly/18bOlFo).

Of course, the problem is one of timing: hang around for 100 million years, and the current shift in CO2 and GHG emissions will appear as a mere blip in the geological record; but hanging in for 5 years, over the standard political renewal period, fuels current expectations that living standards, economic growth, and availability of mass transportation will progressively increase.

Another problem is one of resource availability, and ease of access. Fossil fuel resources have powered the astonishing technological progression in the past two centuries, using buried plant reserves which have allowed us to trade on past sunlight. It had been initially simple to mine or pump these reserves, but then increasingly difficult to exploit resources in the North Sea, Arctic and Gulf of Mexico. Now we have the prospect, or perhaps spectre, that extraordinary rendition of shale gas threatens to turn excessive US energy consumption from net importer to exporter (Hughes JD 2013 Nature 494, 307–308 doi:10.1038/494307a).

Yet using current solar capture systems, we could meet the annual global demand for energy via sunlight, perhaps, from an area 1,000 x 1000 kilometers of the Sahara  (equivalent to x4 the area of the UK: David Mackay, 2009 Sustainable Energy, UIT Cambridge, or http://www.withouthotair.com). Where is the investment, the vision, the technology to exploit this “free” source of energy? Recent governments have been seemingly indifferent to development of industry technologies to exploit renewables and improve energy efficiency in our housing and business stock. The UK should take a lead and set an example of best practice and embrace the mixed energy generation strategies proposed by Mackay. Say no to nimbyism and do it in your own backyard!

Can we afford to be indifferent, risk the compelling IPCC evidence that man-made climate change is a 95% certainty, and still look our grandchildren in the eye? What will it take to break us from our complacent acceptance of the climatic status quo, the political oxymoron of “sustainable growth” and the short-termist mentality embodied by the “out for nowt and here’s me barrow”- cheap flights, cheap clothes, cheap food is taken for granted by all. And what will it take to convince the general public that we need to act, and quickly, to limit fossil fuel consumption and curb GHG emissions?  Will we need to wait for several more “100 year” extreme climatic events in short order, leading to more human suffering, death and destruction, only this time in an area where real estate is valued considerably more than a few square metres of tin shack and their unfortunate human occupants in the Philippines?

So rather than allowing this agenda to be buried, let us resuscitate, rejoin and reinvigorate the climate change debate.

Howard Griffiths, denizen of a ginkgo-enveloped room, honoured to provide the first post on the Plantsci Ecologists blog

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About Howard Griffiths

Professor of Plant Ecology, physiological ecologist, for whom the challenge is to marry molecular and physiological processes to ecological habitat preferences.

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