By Lee Burton
Scientific theories can be approached with skepticism, in fact there isn’t anyone more sceptic than a scientist. The scientific process involves testing against a prediction, practically and mathematically, and siding with whatever the results that arise, even if they’re against individual interest.
When it comes to the causes of climate change the theory here is that mankind is contributing to global rise in temperature through fossil fuel and agricultural industries releasing carbon dioxide and methane gasses. This is a theory that is pretty water tight through the evidence of our existence; without the greenhouse gasses emitted naturally by plants, animals and evaporation then all of the infrared rays radiated from the sun would escape into space making it too cold for life to exist.
On a much smaller scale scientific experiments can replicate the greenhouse gas effect. A common test followed in schools involves two plastic bottles filled with soil, a thermometer in each bottle both next to a light source that is at the same wattage. Filling just one of the bottles with carbon dioxide and then heating both the bottles for 20 minutes at the same distance you’ll find that the bottle with carbon dioxide will be at a slightly higher temperature. We’re currently recreating this experiment on a global scale.
It is not just coincidence that with the industrial revolution in the mid 1800’s that carbon dioxide has risen substantially, and although it is true that carbon dioxide is released naturally through volcanoes and the clashing of tectonic plates, these changes happen over millions of years and not decades.
With the above in mind it is quite hard to contemplate why the term ‘climate change denier’ even exists.
It has been mentioned, often by those in positions of power, that we should be sceptic about the predictions of climate change. The most concerning prediction is that the average global temperature will be 1.5 degrees centigrade by the year 2030, that’s just over 10 years from the time of writing this. If you were skeptical of this the best that can be said is that this is too soon, that could be true, but the most important question to ask with the existing evidence is is it worth the risk? Quite simply no, and the IPCC have been clear; we must drop our carbon emissions by 35% within that 10-year time span.
Even the most irrational among us should support climate change laws and live a life that consists of consuming less red meat and dairy, purchasing of less plastics and cutting down our drive time commutes. The worrying point to make though is that this alone won’t be enough.
Two out of three of the above is much easier said than done. Not eating red meat and dairy should be relatively simple, for the sake of our diet we shouldn’t be eating too much of it anyway; according to the WHO (World Health Organisation) 50g a day of red meat can increase your risk of cancer. The amount of plastics you purchase and your drivetime commutes are mostly determined by your location, e.g. if you live rurally, lack public transport options, have financial difficulties and/or only have a supermarket as a shopping source. Some of these restrictions sound like feeble excuses, but unfortunately private businesses and governments are not providing enough free plastic alternatives and are cutting back on council funds. The predominant problem lies within the economy as it shouldn’t be this hard to fulfill what should be seen as the basics.
Over 40% of our electricity generation is still reliant on fossil fuels and over 40% of all plastic waste is packaging, the banks measure our progress on GDP with all this at our source. In essence, you can buy an electric car but the car is still provided by a power station run on fossil fuels, it’s the source that needs to be replaced.
So, what can we do? As the great David Attenborough has recently said ‘there is still hope’, we’re not yet at 1.5 degrees centigrade. On top of our lifestyle changes we need to be communally active. Get involved in local environmental charities who are everywhere providing plastic-free shops, planting trees, building eco bricks and protesting peacefully against a government muddling through Brexit and living in the short term. Continued pressure from these groups coinciding with changing our commercial habits (as much as we can) will force supermarkets to use recyclable materials and pressure governments to invest money into renewable energy sources. Because if we can’t change our political system, we can at the very least play it at its own game by making environmentalism popular and commercial.
All of this might sound ambitious and/or idealist, but it’s the spark for a much bigger challenge. If you live in the UK you have a privileged opportunity to make a change, most of the world needs to make similar economic upheavals but are not necessarily in the same position to do so. For example, it’s ill advised to protest in the People’s Republic of China, a communist country and the biggest plastic exporter in the world. You wouldn’t protest at all in Saudi Arabia as it is illegal, and they’re one of the biggest oil producers in the world.
It’s also worth noting that putting the United Kingdom in context with the rest of the planet its pollution looks rather tame, so climate change must be looked at as a world-wide problem.
Climate change is not an insurmountable issue yet, it’s a matter of opportunity and influence. The UK might seem small in terms of contributing to pollution, but it also has the commonwealth, Royal Family and trading relationships that have a huge effect on the countries around it. It wouldn’t be so unrealistic that in a country where the industrial revolution began for it to be a leading example with an economic revolution. Community organisations and charities leveraging the advantages of free speech and democracy can sway politicians with green energy investment and maybe even remove the narrow monetary measurements of growth, but it’s imperative that it starts now before it’s too late.