Climate change: we’re not all doomed — yet

THE INTERGOVERNMENTAL Panel on Climate Change — set up by the United Nations — delivered a long-awaited report in Berlin last week with findings that we cannot ignore.

The future of human life on this planet depends on worldwide co-operation on drastic reductions in carbon emissions, starting right now.

The bad news is that serious emissions cuts haven’t really started yet — the quantity greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted is still rising. Total anthropogenic GHG emissions were the highest in human history from 2000 to 2010 and reached 49 (±4.5) gigatonnes of carbon dioxide a year compared to 0.4 gigatonnes per year from 1970 to 2000. The global economic crisis of 2007/2008 only temporarily reduced emissions.

If this rate of increase does not change it will result in 3.7 to 4.8 degrees centigrade of warming by the end of the century.

The good news is that it is not too late to limit warming to less than 2°C — or maybe even 1.5°C.

And the further good news is that the use of renewable sources of energy — solar power, wind and so on — is spreading rapidly and is now economically comparable to the use of fossil fuels.

The panel of scientists who drew up the report recommend a shift in use away from the use of coal — which, globally, was the main source of fuel from 2000 to 2010 — to natural gas because that can be used more efficiently. But this is only a stop-gap measure — it is still a fossil fuel and still produces carbon emissions, though not at the same rate.

They also recommend a much greater deployment of carbon- capture technology, which has hardly been exploited so far. And they call for measures to draw carbon dioxide out of the air — something that green plants do very well.

The emissions are growing along with the growth of the world population and the industrialisation of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But, with the right support, these countries could take up the latest renewable energy technologies on a massive scale and leap-frog the technologies of the declining imperialist empires of Europe and America.

This is the last thing the imperialists want to happen and the multi-national companies and giant banks are trying to impede it. Their international “aid” comes with chains that bind “Third World” governments to privatisation and shortterm profiteering at the expense of long-term, well-planned investment, leading to economic independence and rising living standards. However Chinese investment is quite different.

Our own government has an abysmal record in ditching commitments to green issues, privatising the National Trust and limiting the growth of wind farms. But the wind farms are spreading anyway — they make too much economic sense not to. And fields of solar panels are springing up amid the wheat and the barley and the bright yellow rape fields.

Lifestyles do need to change and why not? If we lived in a planned, socialist economy we could cut the working day by a couple of hours and still produce enough for everyone to be comfortable — and have more time to relax.

A good, cheap, public transport system throughout urban and rural areas would reduce the need to use private cars.

We could turn off 95 per cent of those giant office building lights that blaze through the night. Some lights are needed where there are tower blocks and low flying aircraft but only a few. There is a new, reflective luminous paint for road markings that makes night driving perfectly safe without street lighting.

And why do we have to do some much work, travelling and everything else in the middle of the night? Let’s reduce night working to only what is really necessary. Let’s enjoy more sleep. And when we do wake up in the night we’ll be able to see the stars properly again.