Monday, January 23, 2017

Utopia or realism?

I have just read Phillip Inman's article in The Observer (22 January 2017) -  Utopian ideas on climate change will get us precisely nowhere. It's dangerous stuff - offering what could be a self-fulfilling prophecy that we will fail to do what is needed to tackle the threat of catastrophic climate change.

I generally agree with the first part of the article, which elaborates on the title. Later he makes some sensible points about, for instance, switching to electric cars. I part company from him when he says:
Aircraft makers should be forced to make their planes more efficient, and airport owners must clean up the pollution they create. But this is an exercise in minimising the impact of flying, given that its expansion is inevitable.
Increasing the efficiency of planes is no substitute for reductions in flying. The laws of physics set a limit to aircraft efficiency and we are getting close to that limit. (This was explained some years ago by the late Sir David MacKay). Flying, like most travel, is an intrinsically energy-intensive activity. Because of its speed, low cost and convenience, it encourages us to travel long distances frequently. It seems inconceivable that aviation can continue for long at anything like its present level if we are serious about lowering the risk of catastrophic climate change.

The world needs to be completely carbon neutral by about 2050 - or sooner if we use up our remaining carbon budget before then. How much flying will be possible in a zero-carbon world? I have only seen one estimate (from the Centre for Alternative Technology) - about a third of what we do now.

Furthermore, expansion of aviation is not inevitable - it is the choice of today's politicians to allow it to happen. Much of our population seems ill-informed about the seriousness of the threat from climate change and sees little moral obligation to make more than token personal gestures to mitigate that threat. The crime of our present generation of politicians is that they go along with this. They follow public opinion where they should be leading it. Responsibility lies on their shoulders. It is their duty to be better informed and more morally aware than the bulk of the population.

If we are not lucky or proactive enough to avoid catastrophic climate change, future generations will regard our present politicians, with some exceptions, as criminally negligent. My feelings are summed up in what Dylan Thomas famously said:-

Do not go gentle into that good night...
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
For me, "the light" is our civilisation and the once stable physical climate that made it possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment