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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Climate Change

Here is our press release sent to local papers after our public meeting last week on Climate Change.

A leading environmentalist from Somerset Wildlife Trust has told an audience that he is ‘desperately worried’ about climate change.

If we don’t all make ourselves use much less energy from gas and oil in the next ten years, our world will be back to the stone age by the turn of the century, Bill Butcher, Director of Somerset Environmental Records Centre (SERC), said in Somerton.

Mr Butcher said that speaking out on climate change was a new direction for the Trust. He would pull no punches about how serious the situation was – but there were things we could all do now to make our lives more energy efficient. “Climate change is the biggest issue facing the world,” Mr Butcher said at the talk, hosted by the Trust’s Heart of the Levels group.

“You’ve heard it from David Attenborough, from the Archbishop of Canterbury and every party political leader: climate change is real – there is no debate about that any more. No serious scientist says it isn’t happening – just a few paid by the oil companies – and 99.8 per cent of climate scientists say it is a reality.”

Why is the Wildlife Trust getting involved? “We fear that everything we have achieved will be as nothing if nothing is done – the rate of change would be so fast that our wildlife would not be able to adapt. We are worried about all Somerset wildlife.”

One positive step is that a wide range of disparate, concerned, organisations – from The Wildlife Trusts and the WWF to Greenpeace, the WI and Christian Aid – have joined together to encourage people to act on climate change. The world is in a rapidly warming period and the situation is ‘very dangerous’, said Mr Butcher, who warned about tipping points. As glaciers and ice floes melt they are less able to reflect heat away from the earth and so the rate of warming increases. If this rises above two per cent, accelerated warming would kick in and would almost certainly lead to a catastrophic five to ten degree increase in heat by the turn of the century. At this point, there would be climate chaos – the Amazon would burn, the tundra would release tonnes of methane, and there would be massive crop failure and 150 million refugees worldwide.

A third of land-based creatures would face extinction by the middle of the century – the figures are from the RSPB and not an obscure group, he said. Mr Butcher quoted examples of global warming happening now – for instance, NASA has said summer ice in the Arctic has been at a record low and is in irreversible decline. It is vital, he said, that the earth should not heat up beyond two per cent. It has warmed 0.6 per cent since pre-industrial times and we have 1.4 per cent to go. It’s predicted we will reach two per cent in 20 years . To stop it rising further, everyone in the UK “must reduce their carbon emissions by 87 per cent by 2030 for us to have a reasonable chance of avoiding climate chaos.” But it must be an even reduction, starting now, rather than a huge and sudden reduction, which would bring about global economic collapse.

“How do we do this? We have to make choices about the way we live,” said Mr Butcher. In the UK, each person is responsible for ten tonnes of C02 a year – about ten hot air balloons’ worth a year. “By 2030 we need to reduce that to 1.3 tonnes, or one and a bit hot air balloons.” To reduce our individual production of carbon by 400 kilograms every year, we would need to make choices from these options:
• giving up 1,000 car miles a year to sustainable transport, like buses and bicycles
• using low energy light bulbs
• reducing, or stopping flying
• buying local, organic food from a local market (“Food miles is a big issue. Tesco fresh food could have been transported for anything from several hundred to several thousand miles.”)
• switching to a green energy tariff – ideally one where energy comes from 100 per cent renewable sources.

Mr Butcher revealed he has given up flying completely. “Flying takes up a huge proportion of our carbon allowance. I’m happy to go by train to the south of France.” He has also given up his car. He cycles to the SERC offices in Wellington about three days a week – it’s a 40 mile round trip. “I have an electric bike, with big panniers, which gets me up the hills, as I’m not as young as I was.” Agreeing that electric bikes obviously use a small amount of electricity, he said, “If you use a green tariff, then you know it comes from renewables.” Mr Butcher also uses buses and, occasionally, when he has to, the trust’s pool car. “Catching the bus is fine. It can be frustrating waiting when it’s late sometimes, but it can be done. I get to where I want to go.”

In a question and answer session Mr Butcher said that a personal carbon trading scheme based on a credit card system is a possibility for the future. Carbon could be rationed and a carbon bank set up, with no government involvement.

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