Issue 219: 2019 10 17: Panic Please

17 October 2019

Panic Please

Climate emergency?

by J.R. Thomas

That’s not the advice from my local council, which in the words of the much missed Willie Whitelaw, is going round stirring up apathy.  They have declared a “Climate Emergency” panic and in this rural boondocks, the local populace is, well, totally dismissive.  But our bold councillors, (LibDem, need you ask?), have prepared detailed plans to lighten their carbon footprints and show a good example.

No more driving cars to council gatherings; councillors will be collected by electric buses to deliver them to council and committee meetings, all of which are so vital to save the planet.  The heating and air conditioning in the council’s smart modern (mostly glass clad) offices has been turned off and councillors will not be admitted unless warmly and wisely dressed in fully recyclable organic clothing, preferably wool, many layered.  Pens, pencils, and papers are banned, and regular checks are being made to ensure councillors power their substitute electronic devices from wind power only.  Coffee and tea are banned (too many airmiles) as is milk (c’mon, you know the damage cows are doing).  No more meat sandwiches for the same reason.  No more vegetables from outside the council boundaries.  No more filling potholes – the environmental damage done by making tarmac and endlessly scraping and rolling is appalling.  And councillors are strictly forbidden to travel for pleasure beyond council boundaries, except by bicycle.

Disbelieving some of the above paragraph?  You are right to.  None of it is true, of course.  The Environmental Emergency counter measures have yet to be announced.  No doubt a sub-committee is being appointed and first class flights for fact finding trips will proceed to such environmentally challenged destinations as California, Cortina, and Crete.  But the seriousness of calling an emergency is not yet total.  My neighbour, busy turning his family house into a sustainable dream, is battling the local planners …. to put under his own land a heating loop which will greatly reduce his draw on the national grid.  It will be silent, invisible, long life, and as green as you can get.  But not if North Greenshire District planners have their way.  He could try building a 60 feet high electrical converter station in the middle of open countryside instead.  The planners are busy approving one of those, not four miles away.

Many voters complained that they could not get reliable “facts” so as to make their choices in the Euro-Referendum.  What hardly any politicians pointed out that was that facts were irrelevant.  The issues were to do with the future – my guess is as good as yours and better than any economists’ – and emotion; I am proudly British, or, I am a citizen of Europe.

But the debate over climate change is different; it is much more to do with facts.  Scientific facts.  What concerned citizens really need are scientific facts, preferably from a person, indeed, an expert, (apologies if you have a Gove turn of mind,) who can tell us what actually is changing, and where, and what that implies, and what might result.  Some, a lot, of this expertise is to do with forecasting and what the future might bring, but that is all about climate science as well, a science that has been previously little explored but where research and modelling is now going on at a fast pace.  Some is to do with history, scientific analysis of history.  We know that the world has been much warmer than it is now, and also that it has been much colder than it is now.  In the UK alone, there were two great ice ages, the last of which extended the North Pole ice sheet down as far as Norwich, and which has been in slow retreat for the last ten thousand or so years.  That incursion of ice was not caused by human activity, nor was its retreat.  Georgian times saw a long run of wet summers, Edwardian of hot summers, and the period after the Second World War of cold long winters.  A few months ago [7th March 2019 issue] we recommended the book Time Song as late-night reading for those of a worried nature, to put the life of the earth into context.  It’s all ok, we suggested, humanity will soon be extinct anyway, such is evolution.  That may not have quite brought the balm we had in mind, but it ought at least to put what is happening into context.  The climate varies, and always has.  The big question, the question we would like the scientists to answer, is whether mankind’s present activity is making the problem irreversibly worse.

Certainly there are signs of change which probably do come from human activity – the levels of CO2 are increasing and that may change the atmosphere to trap heat, and thus earth temperatures to rise.  Ice is unarguably in retreat and given the physics of ice converting to water that should cause oceans to rise, though actually there is not much evidence (alright, yet) that that is happening.  Sunspot activity, nothing human there, is increasing, which generates extra heat in the solar system around the sun.  The Amazon jungle continues to be chopped down, to howls of protest, as the Amazon forests produce 20% of the earth’s oxygen release.   (Except: no, they don’t, the true figure appears to be around 2% (a misplaced decimal point in some long ago scientific paper perhaps).  Most of our oxygen comes from the sea; the Amazon with its old decaying forests and plant life may even consume oxygen, a feature of vegetable decay.)

All of which goes to show almost nothing.  We don’t really know (not even 16 year old Swedes know) what is happening, let alone why.  Yet we are urged to make far reaching changes to the way we live in order to counteract what may or may not be going on, and which may be irreversible, or alternatively may turn out to be self-regulating.  Those changes, such is the nature of the human animal, tend, of course, to be changes other people should make, restraints the rest of the population should be placed under, freedoms of the rest of society must have curtailed, for the greater good (of course).

There are slight signs that world political leaders are becoming a little suspicious about what unlikely lines are being fed into the trout streams of public opinion.  Mr Putin and Mr Li are perhaps non-believers or are after catching bigger fish and don’t care, and Mr Trump has never believed any of it and isn’t going to start now.  But M. Macron?  He had the audacity to attack St Greta after her brave and audacious address to, or at, the United Nations.  He said, remarkably, that insulting world leaders did not help any message be better received, or demonstrate understanding and engender support.

But what is needed is not wholesale panic.  There is no climate emergency and your local council will merely use up more of the earth’s resources in causing heat and rubbish accumulation if it declares one.  Corporal Jones had indeed wise advice: “Don’t panic, don’t panic”.  In time, probably a relatively short time, we will be much better informed, and by those without axes to grind, electric cars to sell, or regulation to impose.  Then we will be able to make decisions based on cold hard boring facts.  And life may well go on.  In the meantime, don’t panic.

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