Friday, 20 January 2017

More important than Trump -- or Brexit

 If you're troubled by Trump, or bovvered by Brexit, I have good news for you: there is something far, far more serious for you to be worrying about.

Last year was the hottest year on record. So was the year before. And the year before that. Sixteen of the seventeen hottest years on record have been since the beginning of this century. And according to Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, about ninety per cent of the earth's warming was due to rising greenhouse gas emissions.

That means us. (Plus about 6 billion tonnes a year of intestinal gases from cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens -- which we breed so that we can eat them. So it's us again ...)

But there are some teensy weensy bits of good news. Did you know that all the electric passenger trains in the Netherlands are now powered by wind-generated energy? Or that on four consecutive days last month, all of Scotland's power demands -- yes, all of them -- were met by output from wind turbines? (It was over Christmas, when presumably Scottish ovens were blasting away to roast all those turkeys, so it's even more impressive.)

And then in tramps Trump. George Monbiot, The Guardian's doomster-in-chief, says the new US president will spell disaster for our planet: 'He could not have made it clearer, through his public statements, the Republican platform and his appointments, that he intends to the greatest extent possible to shut down funding for both climate science and clean energy, rip up the Paris agreement, sustain fossil fuel subsidies and annul the laws that protect people and the rest of the world from the impacts of dirty energy.'

On the other hand, American businesses are learning that there are big bucks to be made in going green, and not even Donald Trump will stop them investing in technologies that look as if they could make money for them. Even the oil-mad state of Texas understands which way the wind is blowing -- literally -- and is leading the way in wind-generated power.

And some scientists think the incoming Trump administration may turn out to be more renewable-friendly than it might appear at first sight. Professor Myles Allen of Oxford University told the BBC: 'It is clear that they actually accept a great deal more of the science of human influence on climate than they are prepared to let on. They are acknowledging there is a link, there is a potential problem and that's already more than enough to justify continuing the relatively modest goals of both the Paris agreement and Clean Power Plan.'

Even Mr Trump himself has moderated his stance (apparently). During the election campaign, he called climate change a hoax and said he would cancel the US's endorsement of the Paris climate agreement. Since the election, however, he has said he has an 'open mind' about Paris and accepts that there is 'some connectivity' between human actions and climate change. Who knows? Perhaps he means it.

Both the new US president and Theresa May say they believe in investing serious government money to improve their nations' infrastructure. Flood defences might be a good place to start, coupled with much more imaginative tax incentives to encourage technological innovation in energy generation.

I was asked the other day to name my favourite building in London. I chose Blackfriars station, partly because it sits on a bridge across the River Thames, and I love the idea of waiting for a train while gazing over the river. But mainly because its roof is made entirely of photovoltaic panels, which generate up to half the energy used by the station.

It's what the future should look like -- otherwise we risk having no future at all.

By the way, my memoir, Is Anything Happening?, was published this week, and should now be available in all good bookshops. Signed (or unsigned) copies are available direct from the publisher by clicking here.



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