Thursday, January 31, 2013

Climate cold shoulder

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Here's an interesting Radio 4 program on what lies beneath widespread denial of climate change. Laurie Taylor talks to Sally Weintrobe, the editor of the first book of its kind which explores, from a multi disciplinary perspective, what the ecological crisis actually means to people. In spite of a scientific consensus, many continue to resist or ignore the message of climate communicators - but why? What are the social and emotional explanations for this reaction?
What is this climate problem anyway? The key stores in the global carbon cycle are shown in the image I've drawn (below, click to enlarge). The arrows representing the flow of carbon between key stores are annotated with the mechanism of transfer.
Key aspects to note: Chalk and limestone and fossil fuels are very large carbon stores formed over very long periods but when used they very quickly release carbon to the atmosphere. Burning forests and changing land use by logging and then farming beef or soya both very quickly releases carbon into the air and cuts the rate of carbon removal. Ocean capacity to absorb and store carbon is decreasing as it’s warming up, and oceans are acidifying. The result of this and more: carbon concentration in the atmosphere is rising. 
People, especially those living in the most economically developed societies, currently impact heavily on the carbon cycle. Total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per person per year in the UK are now more than 10 tonnes, when a sustainable level is 2 tonnes. Elsewhere in the economically developed world it can be higher than this eg in the USA.
 In constructing homes, factories, roads...people consume huge quantities of fossil fuel and cement (see image). Extracting/producing, transporting and using fossil fuels and cement in itself releases large amounts of carbon.
In heating and lighting homes and using many gadgets people consume large amounts of natural gas and electricity (largely produced by burning fossil fuels in power stations).
In transporting themselves around by car and their factory mass produced and consumed goods around the globe by heavy lorry, planes and ships, huge amounts of petrol, diesel and aviation fuel are burned, emitting carbon.
Demand for land is high and growing eg to feed a growing world population and to meet high demand for meat. Beef farming in particular is land and energy intensive - large scale deforestation (see image) has occurred to make land available for it.
One reaction to all this: the UK Climate Change Act, 2008 under the last Labour Govt, which sets a carbon reduction target of at least 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels, and carbon budgeting. However, the Coalition Govt has, amongst a long list of green failures: dropped the pledge to cut EU emissions by 30% by 2020 and is instead getting the EU "back on track" to cutting energy consumption by 20% by 2020; abandoned a planned rise in the renewable energy target; axed a commitment to replace air passenger duty with a per-flight tax; severely limited the scope of green financial products supposed to enable people to invest in green infrastructure; favoured greater reliance on finite and climate change causing natural gas; favoured fracking for shale gas....see here for more. 

Find out more on climate change from: