I don’t know how seriously to take this Last Hours video but it does feature one of the most famous climate scientists, Michael Mann, of hockey stick fame. When I re-read the response I made in 2007 to the Draft Climate Change Bill, I remembered that none of the contributors to the blogs that I follow have been willing to comment on Last Hours. I know some of the scientist associated with it have had threats made so perhaps that’s wise.
My response in 2007 is more-or-less what I believe seven years later. Sadly, I think policy politicians are mostly out of the loop. I believe that climate policy in the UK is governed by civil servants – under the pressure of lobbyists. The key departments are in HM Treasury, DECC, BIZ, DEFRA, DCLG. My interpretation of their approaches to climate change:
- HM Treasury: Its causes are not our problem.
- DECC: Energy security is a problem.
- BIS: Now controls the Met Office.
- DEFRA: Hides the carbon footprint of beef and lamb.
- DCLG: Ignores embodied carbon in construction.
They obstruct green policies except for energy security.
They still ignore the real message which hasn’t changed.
Summary of my 2007 submission:
Aim for carbon negative lifestyles
Get power systems to take carbon from the atmosphere
Stop nearly all flying
Cut most road transport
Build to embody carbon dioxide in construction.
Change our economy
Let the public know
Publicise carbon footprinting
Change food consumption
Develop neighbourhoods using new planning strategies
Come clean on construction
Change international trade, development and aid
Take military options seriously
These policies may be beyond what is politically possible but what is politically possible can change. Tomorrow is the start of The Embodied Carbon Week organised by the UK Green Building Council and supported by serious commercial interests.
Last year the Committee on Climate Change finally conceded that the UK’s carbon footprint has increased since 1990 rather than decreased.
A change in the politics of climate change will come if the super El-Nino that some are predicting emerges over the next two years. If it comes will the Government Departments stop ignoring the truth about climate change?
July 2014: The El-Nino may be petering out but even without this raising temperatures, For May the global temerature was the highest since modern records began. Higher than the last year a super El-Nino surfaced. Californians will be disappointed. Their drought will continue. (2014 El Nino?)
The 2007 submission ….
Global Warming and The Problems of Climate Change
A Response to the Draft Climate Change Bill
by Geoff Beacon
At its worst, climate change is recognised as a threat to human existence. Sadly its effects are probably much worse than the assessments given by the IPCC to the governments of the world. My contention is that the strategies that have been put in place by the government of the UK are simply insufficient to cope with the scale of the problem.
The UK started the industrial revolution and as such bears a heavy responsibility for its subsequent effects . We and others in Europe became affluent by harnessing power derived from the burning of fossil fuels. Promoted and celebrated by the global media, the image of the Western lifestyle is that to which all aspire. The developing countries of the world notably China and India now wish to have their share of a dream which for us is turning sour. To deny them their place in the queue to a paradise that we may now reject seems at best churlish and at worst, positively racist. But, we have discovered that the dream only can be achieved at the cost of the production of greenhouse gases which if unfettered will effectively deny all of us secure and comfortable lives. In a nutshell this is the problem; how in the West can we promulgate the idea of a low carbon lifestyle as an aspiration for the world when we have been profligate in its very opposite.
My view is that we should once again become a world leader. As a nation we need to design a model that the rest of the world can follow. Technological fixes may help but it would be foolish to rely on the tenuous and partial solutions that they offer. Sadly there is no evidence that we can, in effect, have our cake and eat it. The neo-conservative faith in the ability of the market place to develop mechanisms which will protect the economic status quo is misplaced. There is no silver bullet. It is only in changing the fundamental practices of our own society, that we can make a significant contribution by showing the rest of the world that the problem is tractable and the solutions attractive.
We must aim to design lifestyles so low in emissions of greenhouse gasses that they actually become “carbon-negative”. Such lifestyles will withdraw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and begin to reverse the effects of global warning. In addition to being environmentally responsible, these lifestyles must present paradigms that the rest of the world would wish to emulate. In this aspiration we have the advantage that many countries in the developing world have non-materialistic, community based traditions which may be revived to counter the damaging effect of the relatively recent onslaught of models of Western affluence.
Can this be done?
As perquisites to a carbon-negative lifestyles we must:
Create power systems that extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
Of course, we must invest in low carbon energy sources that are available now. Wind power, including off-shore wind power, may be one of these, although a careful consideration of the greenhouse gasses emitted during their construction is necessary. Nuclear power may be an option but it does have a long lead-time and several other well-known difficulties. But as a matter of urgency we should develop heat and power systems that use bio-mass combustion in conjunction with carbon capture technology. These can extract more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they produce. That is not to say that all biomass is “good bio-mass”. For these purposes, wider effects must be taken into account. For example, planting wood in snowy regions may cause unwanted changes in the Earth’s albedo. Also at a time when the food production capacity of the Earth may fall significantly, the cultivation of every bio-mass energy crop may not be appropriate
Stop nearly all flying
The damage caused to the environment by cheap and frequent air travel is well publicised. However, in the UK, we are planning for an increase in air traffic. The lobbies that are funded by the air-industry together with the popularity of cheap holidays provide powerful constraints on the ability of government to address the problems created by this increase. To deny the lower paid the benefit of foreign travel is the domestic equivalent of decrying industrial development in China and India. The rich it would appear, will have returned to them the exclusivity of rapid world travel. It must however, be borne in mind that increasingly, climate change will negate the benefits of holidays taken in warmer climes than ours. Already, destinations as close as Spain and Southern Italy are becoming unpleasantly hot in summer. It is not merely a nostalgic dream that we can halt the obsession for geographical novelty that impels us to seek holiday destinations that take us further afield than our own shores.
Sometimes it is suggested that aeroplanes can be “carbon neutral” when powered by biofuels. In my view this is a disingenuous argument put forward to divert public opinion. Apart from a consideration of the enormous amounts of land required to produce the liquid fuel that aeroplanes need, there is a serious objection to the concept of “carbon neutral” air travel using current carbon-based technologies. That is based on the Radiative Forcing Index (RFI).
The RFI is a factor that is applied to the CO2 emissions of to give the global warming potential (GWP). This is meant to account for greenhouse gasses other than CO2 that air travel generates and to account for the position in the atmosphere, in which the greenhouse gasses are released. An estimate for this factor can be found on the DEFRA website. It is 2.7. Crudely, this means that for every tonne of carbon dioxide taken from the atmosphere to create biofuel the equivalent of 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide are released back into the atmosphere.
Cut most road transport, particularly in private cars.
We have seen a massive increase in the amount of goods transported by road. Investments into greener transport options must be made: we need to find more environmentally responsible ways of getting people and products from A to B and more importantly plan our settlements so that journeys from A to B are less frequent. In addition, where possible many As (homes) should be closer to relevant Bs (shops, workplaces & etc.).
Improvements in the impact of cars on climate change may by possible if they are powered by electricity from renewable sources. However the “green electricity” issue is not straightforward, especially in a situation where extra demand means more electricity drawn from remaining coal-fired power stations. In addition, when measured on basis of passenger-kilometres, the emissions of carbon dioxide for private transport are much greater than public transport.
Build to embody carbon dioxide in construction.
Currently, a new dwelling is responsible for large amounts of greenhouse gasses entering the atmosphere as a result of its construction. For example, the flagship environmental project BEDZED has been rated at 67.5 tonnes of CO2 for a three bedroom flat. It is possible however, to build in a way that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by relying on bio-mass, using raw materials such as straw and hemp.
Consume products with low or negative carbon footprints:
Negative carbon products are possible, e.g. furniture made from wood grown sustainably. As discussed below, the type of food we eat must be assessed for its carbon footprint.
These prerequisites are necessary to create a carbon-negative lifestyle. They can be largely carried out by “green taxes”. But they are not sufficient: In order to create a model of living that the rest of the world can follow, we need to have a framework for experiment so that new lifestyles can be developed. This should come under a new body, such as a Department for Sustainable Living.
If insufficient remedial action is taken the worst case climate change scenario envisaged by the IPCC will come about and will lead to the death of most of the world’s human and other animal populations. Given this fact, cost, as measured by conventional economics, should not be the first consideration.
In the current system, conventional economics dominate government thinking. The preservation of jobs, more than the world in which we live, is also a governing factor. The preservation of jobs is most often used as a barrier for a cautious departure from the ‘business as usual’ approach. However, job losses do not have to be part of creating a more responsible lifestyle.
During the 1980’s I published work on a model of job creation that utilised a modification of the current scheme for VAT. This work received the support of the European Commission and was carried out in partnership with Professor Kim Swales of the Fraser of Allender Institute at Strathclyde University. These proposals ensure jobs can still be available when adapting our way of life. (See The Employment Effect Of Subsidies.)
In several developed countries, but particularly in Britain, the planning system has distributed vast amounts of wealth to the affluent and shut the door on the poor. Restrictions of planning permission have caused property values to rise at a very significant percentage of GDP (see evidence to the Treasury Select Committee). I propose capturing some of the wealth associated with planning permission, and earmarking a proportion of it for lifestyle and neighbourhood developments that would aim to be carbon-negative.
I am greatly surprised by the patchy understanding of climate change that is held both by the public and by people in official positions. I am surprised also by the quality of the messages from the media. For some time I have been disappointed by the BBC, whom I expected to be better informed and investigative, particularly on an issue that threatens such dire consequences. I particularly dislike their reliance on “copper bottoming”, which too often means that argument is “ad hominem”.
The BBC is perhaps driven by a need for “balance” (amongst opposing views) rather than searching for the truth. I do not see how this concept of balance fits with the Reithian “educate, inform, entertain” that is part of the BBC’s mission statement. Of course, “balance” is cheap and easy: book two people of opposing views on a topic of the day (from the BBC list) and let them fight it out. Good superficial broadcasting but just good enough to educate the public. And without some better knowledge we can expect limited political action on climate change.
Good quality public knowledge is necessary at all levels of society: I am not convinced that anybody in government knows enough about the current crisis. Decisions may be affected by political considerations, which in turn are driven by the views held by the general public, but politicians and officials are also ill-informed.
I believe Parliament should do much more in this respect by increasing the power of relevant select committees and the resources available to them. It is informative to hear expert witnesses questioned but in my view the whole process, from hearings to publications, is too slow and insufficiently proactive. The power of subpoena should be used more aggressively so that a wide range of those people who make public pronouncements on climate change could be made to justify their views. We are in a situation where accurate and widespread public knowledge is vital. To this end commentators who irresponsibly promote opinions which are not founded on good science but who receive publicity from those elements of the media that are sceptical on the issue of climate change can have their views tested in a public forum.
Carbon footprints are an important aspect of public knowledge. They measure the impact goods and services have on the climate by estimating the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere created in the processes of manufacture and use. It is usual to add in the effects of other greenhouse gasses in proportion to their effect to get a combined estimate in terms of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e).
The move from Walker’s to label their crisp packets with the estimated carbon footprint of a bag of their crisps is welcome. We need to look at a mandatory system in which all consumer goods are clearly marked with a best estimate for the carbon footprint of the product. In this way, people may achieve a reduction in their carbon burden on the world in an easy and consumer-friendly manner. At present, there is no standard set and finding out the carbon footprint of goods can be extremely difficult. For example, does a glass bottle create 750 grams or 8 kilograms of carbon dioxide? Published figures exist for both amounts. We must fund research and set an accurate, approved system, for grading the carbon footprints of consumer goods.
The current progress of carbon foot-printing is disappointing. A group convenes in York, The Fishergate Environmental Panel, which is currently compiling a green ration book (www.greenrationbook.org.uk) to show the carbon footprints of everyday products and activities. We attempt to be open and transparent and have set up a discussion topic for each item we consider. We feel the urgency of the situation requires numbers now: Even guestimates of carbon footprints are better than nothing.
We often encounter barriers to transparency and openness in our search for source material because those who have worked in the field wish to protect their intellectual property. This means that results are hidden for commercial advantage. This applies to many research and consultancy groups. One example concerns the Carbon Trust, which has done much work with Marks & Spencer (who must be congratulated as leaders amongst the supermarket chains). But the findings remain the property of Marks & Spencer and can only be used with their permission. Personally, I am also disappointed by the Building Research Establishment, who many feel have made access to their research more difficult since privatisation. Without transparency and openness, there is little scope for designing a lifestyle outside current parameters.
The question of transparency and openness of research needs to be tackled urgently.
We know from footprinting studies that the production, processing, transport and retailing of food has a very large contribution to climate change. The green ration book has sourced an estimate of the carbon footprint of a cheeseburger that would implies that consuming one per day would in a year put a tonne of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A limit of one tonne of carbon dioxide as a yearly personal carbon allowance, may not be restrictive enough. A cheeseburger a day would exceed the limit by itself. That being said, there are complex arguments relating to the carbon footprints of food production. I know of little work that addresses this issue properly. Again, this is hampered by a lack of transparency and openness.
Moves to reduce carbon footprints by, say, growing biofuels, often involve the use of land that would be put to other uses such as food production. The Vegan Society produces interesting information comparing vegan, vegetarian and meat-eating diets. They claim the fossil energy used in producing a vegan diet is less than a third of that used in producing a meat-eating die; also that a vegan diet takes one eighth of the land area for food production and could see twice the current human population fed.
The Vegan Society also make other points about the role of animal products on climate change and its associated problems: water use, methane emissions, burning forests etc. (See http://www.vegansociety.com) .
The effects of climate change on total food production are as yet unknown: as deserts spread, ice-caps will melt. Future food production cannot be easily predicted but it is likely to be problematic. Policy makers should already be considering what changes in food production could reduce our carbon footprints and should initiate a research process to discover in what way changes in our diet could bring this about.
Food security is an urgent issue, the European Union’s “food mountains” disappeared as a consequence of the hot summer of
2003. They should be rebuilt.
Developments in neighbourhoods
In the 1970s I and others proposed changes in lifestyles and the design of neighbourhoods that would limit the use of cars and create areas of low vehicle use. We foresaw that immense amounts of money and effort were being spent on creating a car-based society and it was making life less pleasant. More details on this theory can be seen in evidence to the York inner ring-road enquiry in 1973. My proposals for low vehicle neighbourhoods can be found on the website at here.
Subsequently there were moves to promote car-free cities, one associated with a European Commissioner, Carlo Ripa de Mina. But although some progress was made in controlling cars in cities, there has been no substantial move to create neighbourhoods with limited car use. Since then, our dependency on private car use has escalated. Car drivers will state that it is quicker by car. However, typically, a car ride in London may save the driver time, but it will waste other people’s time by several times the amount saved. Estimate of this effect can be made from fairly simple traffic engineering calculations
It is my belief that residents in neighbourhoods with limited use of cars have a better lifestyle than those in car-full neighbourhoods. This is mainly because they do not pollute each other. Neighbourhood design should not simply be a matter of designing a layout of buildings and surroundings but should incorporate a range of legal and financial structures that support a lifestyle to suit the planning layout. (See the newsletter of the Rents, Service Payments and Covenants Association) Such mechanisms could ensure the economic sustainability of local shopping, local employment, local food production and the like.
At the time I took the view that such developments should be available to those that wanted them and the fact that they did not exist was a failure of the market. Now I take a different view: We must experiment with settlement patterns and legal and financial frameworks to find the lowest carbon way of living .We must free ourselves from the rigidity of current ideas and practices because nearly all lifestyles in the developed world do not get close to being sustainable. We must have a new breed of designers who can span the disciplines of architecture, landscape, building science, law and economics to create carbon negative neighbourhoods and lifestyles that the rest of the world can emulate.
Speculation on the best direction for such designs points to settlements built near existing urban areas on green-field sites with medium density. These should not be so sparse as to make local services (transport, retail etc.) too difficult. They should however be separate enough to allow for solar energy capture (particularly thermal solar) and food production. Neighbourhoods should have enough space to incorporate bio-mass power with carbon capture.
The constraint of demanding high densities for development is formed from the view that compact settlements mean shorter journeys and are therefore less environmentally damaging.
There are many determinants of the generation of trips: the overall density effect can be swamped by several other factors.
The mantra “brownfield development good greenfield development bad” is simply false in the context of climate change and promoted for political reasons associated with the entrenched green belt concept. Brownfield sites encourage intensive development and often require energy intensive remedial action. For further comment see http://www.greeningthegreenbelt.org.uk
The government currently places great emphasis on homes and building in general. What is often over-looked, and gets very little coverage, is the quantity of greenhouse gases created by the production of building materials and the building process itself. This is not properly accounted for in government standards.
A common accounting method is to divide the embodied carbon dioxide by the expected lifetime of the building. In this emergency situation, in which climate change is accelerating, it is clearly a nonsense. An undergraduate economist who has studied discounted cash flow should be able to spot this fallacy but, as far as I am aware, no serious analysis has been undertaken. Putting carbon dioxide into the air now is like speeding up an avalanche. We must now begin re-absorbing carbon dioxide (See some rudimentary discussion of this on topic “Construction vs. Lifetime CO2” on the ACEB discussion forum at
Typically a three-bedroom house creates over 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide in its construction. We should aim to capture that amount of carbon dioxide plus take out an additional 50 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere to try and reverse the effects of the greenhouse gasses.
In addition we should use energy from bio mass with carbon capture, and as a good emergency fix, as much wind power as possible including some sea-based wind-farms.
Building design should also be a major player in the effort to reduce the greenhouse gases. For example, if all new homes had an outside drying space, it would reduce the need for tumble dryers and would help minimise the carbon footprint of the new home. Also, if buildings were no more than two storeys high, fewer structural components such as steel and concrete would be needed. These materials in particular have large carbon footprints.
International trade and international development and international aid
Climate change realists sometimes use the euphemism “anthropomorphic extinction event”. There is a picture of Dr Jennifer McElwain at the Constable Pynt airbase on the website of the University College website, which is captioned:
“Each and every biological species faces extinction at some point in time. It is estimated that 99% of all the species that once inhabited the earth are now extinct. Even the once dominant dinosaurs, and almost 50% of the other species living at the time, surrendered to a mass-extinction event which occurred some 65 million years ago.”
“Now, it is widely believed that we are facing a sixth mass extinction event as a result of the current rates of anthropomorphic (man-made) global warming.”
Many development economists put free trade at the top of the agenda, calling on international trade theory to argue that economic growth through free trade is THE way to combat poverty. This is consistent with the views of the World Bank and the Department for International Development. Free trade theory is also embedded in the constitution of the European Union.
But if we are facing an anthropomorphic extinction event caused, in the main, by world economic “progress” since 1740, this theory may have met its refutation. What we saw as progress may become to be regarded as something quite different.
In any case, the rich of the world have created most of the problem and the poor of the world are disproportionately suffering and will suffer the consequences. This is often emphasised as a rich country / poor country problem. But a more detailed analysis will show it is a rich household / poor household problem.
The role of international trade in the generation of greenhouse gasses is now recognised. This is not just an issue of transportation: it is also a question of accounting. A proportion of the greenhouse gas emissions that is allocated to China, should really be allocated to us. If I buy the spade made in China from steel made in China, it should be part of my carbon footprint.
Chickens that are sold in the UK may well have been fed on soy beans grown on land carved out of the Amazon rain forest. Scientific evidence is now suggesting that the collapse of the Amazon is quite possible and that such a collapse would engender catastrophic climate change.
Given the seriousness of the situation we should consider using trade and aid policy as a force to be used in the fight against catastrophic climate change. The best way for the UK to be effective should be to influence European Union to consider policies such as the following:
· Put very high tariffs on goods entering Europe with a high carbon footprint and put low tariffs on goods with a low carbon footprint.
· Put high tariffs on any goods from countries that have a poor environmental record.
· An aggressive dumping regime should be considered. For example to collapse the markets in commodities that are responsible for rain forest clearing.
These negative measures should be accompanied by positive ones which recognise the role that Europe has played in creating the problem. We should be prepared to take on a considerable burden of aid payments. Some of these may be considered reparations, some may be used for carbon offsetting. Northern Europe is likely to be more kindly treated by climate change than much of the world. People will wish to come and live here. I have outlined in my evidence to the Treasury Select Committee how this could generate a large income.
The global warming issue is such a serious threat to the Earth that diplomatic relationships must be improved so we can work together with all the world’s communities. We should bear our share of the burden. Also, if additional policing of vital carbon-negative areas of the world is needed, (for example the Brazilian rainforests) military options could also be considered. That, thankfully, is well beyond my expertise.
The climate change bill
Some of the above may be considered to be less relevant to the climate change bill than a submission should be. I will simply answer this:
The apparently extreme measures I have outlined are probably not adequate for the urgency of the situation. But the climate change bill is far behind and does nothing much that can influence the rest of the world.
When attending a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, I discovered that the current climate change models do not incorporate any feedback from melting permafrost, particularly in Siberia. Since then I have had several email exchanges on the subject. The clearest response is from the Transdepartmental Science and Technology Group, which states: “if the observed melting continues over the next 100 years, the rate of global warming could increase by 10% to 25%.”
Another reply is from the CESA (climate and energy science and analysis) at DEFRA, is less clear and has aspects that are worrying:
“The methane permafrost feedback is something of a climatic wildcard – no one really knows for sure its potential significance.”
This is not an answer I had hoped for but, by itself, I find it acceptable. But:
“The IPCC temperature projections, which are used to guide policymakers, have to be based on effects for which there is a reasonably robust scientific understanding, which is not the case at present for methane permafrost feedback.”
This is much more concerning. “Robust science” is by it’s nature cautious and slow and the political process, in which the IPCC is embedded adds further serious delay. Policymakers are also cautious and the political processes, in which they are embedded, creates even more delay.
Siberian methane is not the only positive feedback in the climate system. Others are likely to be more serious, e.g. the collapse of the Amazon rain forest . However, it is clear that Siberian methane has been know as an issue for some time but the email from CESA says
“There is currently no universal scientific agreement about the magnitude of the methane permafrost feedback, except that it is likely to be positive.”
But how quickly can warning signs be recognised and assessed. A few months ago I noticed a posting on a BBC “Have your say” discussion on the BBC website:
“Hello from Moscow
I was just talking to my friends in Barnaul, Central Siberia. Averagely they would expect to have temperatures from -40C to -20C. But today it is +1C, and yesterday it was +8C.
To say that there is “nothing going on” is clearly evasive nonsense.”
This is a comment unlikely to be taken seriously by the Scientific Establishment. But, if I were a policy maker and I had read this, I would have asked my advisors to see if this were true and whether there was any other information on this topic. Or I would have used Google to find:
“2007: Hottest Year on Record So Far …”
“Note that the real news is that much of Siberia is a stunning 5°C (9°F) above average. This is especially worrisome because
⦁ Siberia contains probably the world’s largest amount of carbon locked away in the permafrost.
⦁ The permafrost is increasingly not so perma.
⦁ Much of that carbon would be released as methane, which is 23 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”
This site has an image of April world temperature anomalies compiled by the United States National Climatic Data Center (NCDC )
If I were a policymaker I would like some serious interpretation from my scientific advisors ASAP.
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