The charts pictured here show on a single slide why there is a rapidly growing concern about the ability of our planet to provide a stable home for our children and grandchildren…
First let me recap the science. These charts have been produced by a leading member of the British Antarctic Survey. This intrepid team, along with international research colleagues, spend their time in the frozen wilderness of Antarctica drilling deep holes in its ice sheets. Why? Because by analysing the composition of gases absorbed in the ice core, they can find out what was going on in the Earth’s atmosphere hundreds of thousands of years ago. You can read more about their fascinating work here.
The gases they are most interested in are carbon dioxide and methane, as these are the biggest concern in relation to the “Greenhouse Effect”, which is causing our planet to overheat. See the illustration below if you’ve never quite understood this. What the ice core studies show is that the Earth has a natural cycle of warming and cooling over hundreds of thousands of years. Theses cycles were happening long before humans came on the scene. What is alarming is that the chart shows how this natural cycle has been critically altered since the advent of industrialisation – powered by the burning of fossil fuels.
Today, 150 miles away in Glasgow, world leaders are gathering for “COP 26” – the 26th UN Climate Change Conference. Its agenda is to seek global agreement around actions that can limit the heating of our planet. It’s absolutely right that governments meet to do this, because so much is at stake. Our shared atmosphere has no borders, so unless all countries coordinate and cooperate, the efforts of a single committed nation will be undermined by others who choose to continue acting irresponsibly. For example, mass deforestation in southern Brazil contributes to heavier rainfall and flash flooding here in northern England.
At the heart of the climate challenge is the issue of human behaviour – something that is nototiously difficult to change. Quite simply, our modern lifestyles are built on over-consumption. But we can make choices that add up to make a big difference. There are three things that each one of us can choose to do something about:
- our home
- our travel
- our food.
We need to begin by insulating our homes, so that less of the energy used to heat them goes to waste. I’m really frustrated that the British Government isn’t offering more incentives in this area. Other countries are way ahead of us, realising that there is a job-creation angle to this, as well as a climate angle. We also need to use our boilers more efficiently. Most readers of this article will have a gas-powered “condensing boiler” (often a combi model). What few people know is that turned up to their maximum temperature these boilers lose a lot of their energy efficiency. By turning the dials down to about 75% of the maximum you will run the boiler more efficiently and save money too! Ultimately of course, we need to get rid of our boiler altogether, replacing gas with renewable electricity (in the form of a ‘Heat Pump’).
The way we travel needs to change too. One of the biggest things you can do to reduce your personal contribution to heating up the planet is to fly less. The same sun shines in Spain as in Mexico, so if you must fly somewhere, try to stay closer to home. Even better of course, make the most of the amazing places that Britain has to offer. Day-to-day travel choices matter too. I’m seeing more and more electric vehicles on the roads which is great. Not only good for the planet they are also much quieter and contribute to better air quality. The new public transport hub coming soon to North Shields will also offer local people the opportunity to connect with cleaner public transport more easily. Improved buses are already on our roads and our brand new Metro fleet arrives in 2024. Last but by no means least, it’s great to see more people making use of electric bikes, with the council upgrading cycling routes on which to ride them more safely.
Finally, the food we eat. I have to confess my surprise when I recently heard one of the world’s most famous meat-heads, ‘Terminator’ Arnold Swartzenegger, now eats an “almost” vegan diet. “Almost” because he still treats himself to a steak every once in a while. But that’s absolutely the point isn’t it. Changing our lifestyles doesn’t have to mean walking around in a hair shirt. Adapting our diets to have most of the week being veggie won’t stop the enjoyment that comes from eating a Sunday roast, if you want to continue doing that. And all the evidence suggests that we’ll be healthier for making the switch too – our hearts and hips will show the proof.