Clean and future-proof, or dirty and running out? What would you spend money on?

In my office I have a mug with a world map printed on it. The countries change colour when I fill it with something hot, becoming anything from green to dark red in accordance with the carbon dioxide emissions of each country.  It’s a reminder of the fact that those countries which burn most fossil fuel per person – e.g. USA and China  –  are contributing a disproportionate amount to global warming.

‘Green issues’ have been in the news quite a bit of late. To start with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest report on climate change, in which the scientists stated that they are 95% certain that humans are responsible for climate change and that we need to take action globally now.  The publication was accompanied by much dissent from those who disagree (most of whom aren’t scientists).  I can understand why people are unenthusiastic about it: climate change is ‘inconvenient’. But finding it difficult to adapt is reasonable; continuing to argue the case in the face of an overwhelming scientific consensus just because our position is unpalatable, is not.

If we are going to lessen the impact of climate change on the next generation we need to heed the message of the IPCC scientists and change our behaviours. That’s hard for pretty much everyone. But it is necessary.

We’ve known for many years that smoking, diet and lack of exercise contribute to heart disease, one of the UK’s biggest killers. And, faced with a diagnosis of heart disease, people don’t usually question advice that they give up smoking or adapt their diet – however difficult it is to do in practice.  Doctors are scientists, and we trust them to advise us, even if the message they bring is sometimes difficult to hear.  So what is so different about climate scientists and their advice to reduce the burning of fossil fuels?

‘Green issues’ have remained in the media since the IPCC report, but not for good reasons.   Interest in the IPCC report gave way to party conferences, talk of fuel bills and  the merits of paying energy companies for investment in renewable energy.  Sadly our government, instead of dealing with increasing energy bills and the profit motive that drives them, seems all too happy to blame renewables for rising costs. So much for listening to the scientists.   Cameron et al seem to be so busy celebrating the possibility of a new nuclear power plant that will cost billions yet provide only 7% of the UK’s energy requirements  that they haven’t noticed Denmark is on target to generate a whacking 50% of its energy needs from wind power by 2020.

Most weeks, my local paper carries a story about a proposal for renewable energy in some form. I do accept that some people see renewables as visually undesirable, but they are safe, clean, and future-proof. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, are dangerous (witness the anniversary of the Senghenydd colliery disaster in the news last week), dirty, running out and contributing to global warming.

To end on a positive note, I buy my electricity from Ecotricity – which sources all of its power from renewables. It has just broken its pricing link with ‘the big six’ and has put its prices down.  Despite all the press to the contrary, it seems there really is room for a different way of doing things. The more energy companies source from renewables, the better off we will all be.


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