Thursday, 15 February 2007

I Nearly Counted!

by Ralph Underhill. Photos © Andy Hay,

It isn't easy being climate-friendly. Last November a group of us thought it would be appropriate to attend the Stop Climate Chaos - I Count event in Trafalgar Square on bicycles. We set off from Bedfordshire with high hopes and good spirits on our suitably carbon-friendly steeds. One brake pad, a crank, one inner tube, several wrong turns (all of which, Escher-like, involved steep hills) and several hours later, we got to the big event just in time ... to see some discarded banners, a small crowd of people milling about and a small canine wearing a sign that read I don't want to be a hot dog! But, to be fair, it looked like it was probably a good and fun event for those who arrived on time.

The turn-out was around 25,000 and, although sizeable, I view this as somewhat disappointing when you consider that the Stop Climate Chaos coalition includes 49 different groups (according to its web site,, many of which have considerable memberships. The overall figure works out as just 510 people per organization, which feels doubly depressing when you think that over a million Tory voters dressed in tweed made it to London to complain about not being able to kill a native species for fun.

Why is it so hard to enthuse people about climate change? I have conducted a less-than-scientific study - of a couple of people down the pub - and come up with the following reasons.

1) It is not really happening;
2) It's too depressing to think about: Ignorance Is Bliss;
3) What's the point? Look at China and India!

How can we address these issues and galvanize the masses? Here are a few incompletely-formed ideas:

1) It is not really happening

Thankfully, this reasoning is becoming less and less common. In ECOS 27, Peter Taylor suggests that only about 10% of climate change is human induced (although this is only the CO2 component) and that changes in solar radiation are more important. However, a 2006 study and review of existing literature, published in Nature, determined that there has been no net increase in brightness since the mid-1970s, and that changes in solar output within the past 400 years are unlikely to have played a major part in global warming.

Furthermore, in February the IPCC released part of its fourth report on climate change. Regarded by many as too conservative with its predictions, the report still concludes that there is at least a 90% certainty that human emissions of greenhouse gases, rather than natural variations, are warming the planet's surface.

I am interested in the work to which Peter refers, but he is talking about an area of investigation that is nowadays up against a huge scientific - not political - consensus. Of course we should continue to investigate other scenarios, but if I had cancer and I saw 100 more-or-less equally-qualified consultants and 98 of them told me that an operation could save my life, while 2 said that it wouldn't make a difference ... then I think I would go under the knife!

2) It's too depressing to think about: Ignorance Is Bliss

You are right: it is quite depressing. We could cheer ourselves up and examine the good things climate change will bring, like the ability to have your own vineyard. But will being less negative really help us to act or, more likely, will it give us further excuses not to? Surely, the real way to address this issue is to show people that small changes in their lives could produce significant reductions in their emissions. A sense of our recent history is also important: although air travel and exotic foods are commonplace now, they were restricted luxuries only a few decades ago. The modern way of life for developed countries, such as our own, is now considered a human right, despite the fact that we put even the Romans to shame in terms of consumption and waste.

The most important point is that there is a flip side to the doom and gloom and that is that we still have some time, maybe ten years, until there is no turning back, so there is still hope ... let's rejoice! As you can probably tell, I am not terribly good at this upbeat stuff.

3) What's the point? Look at China and India!

China is growing so rapidly only because many countries, including our own, are consuming the products that they make. To make out that their growth is nothing to do with us and completely unstoppable is simply untrue. We all need to change the way we live and to stop using others as convenient excuses.

Conservationism vs Environmentalism ...

There used to be a great divide between the sandal-wearing, bearded lentil eaters and the sandal-wearing, bearded, real ale drinkers. It is now increasingly difficult to be a conservationist without considering how both your own work and life are affecting what you are trying to conserve. Even if we ignore climate change, it will not go away. If we try only to adapt to the changes, they may well be too big for the majority of species to survive. There is no doubt that every effort must be made to adapt to the inevitable changes that will come, but, if we really want to conserve species and ecosystems, we must also try to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The Times They Are a-Changing ...

Four months ago people thought I was a mad loon, or at least more of a mad loon than they do now! I was the respectable version of a drunk. My rants about the dying planet were met either with complete boredom or more frequently with raised eyebrows. I might as well have worn a 'The End is Nigh' sandwich board.

Now it seems things have suddenly changed. Now when I rant others agree, the only raised eyebrows being my own at my friends' change in opinion. I am no longer mad - at least with respect to my opinions on climate change - HOORAY! However, in a strange way, I think I preferred the good old days of a few months ago. At least back then I had the hope that, when everyone eventually came round to the inconvenient truth about climate change, things might actually start to change. It is the biggest single threat to the planet ever faced and people are starting to realise this - unfortunately they don't want to change they way they live to accommodate it. We have a situation now where people still fly to their holidays, but they feel guilty about doing it.

I am aware that I might not be giving everyone a fair chance, after all, four months is not a long period of time, especially not for political change, and the changes in opinion that I have noticed are massive. I am sure that, if I wasn't such a miserable git, I would be drawing many more positives from this perceived change. After all, if opinions can change so quickly, maybe there is something to be hopeful about, maybe - just maybe - we can all change in time.

Until next time ...
Chicken Little

Interesting Links:
IPCC Report:,9061,1431398,00.html,,2004399,00.html

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