Monday, 30 October 2006

Climate change suddenly fashionable

Over the past few months suddenly climate change, global warming and carbon emissions have become headline news. Newspapers and magazines are full of it, radio and TV news programmes are choc-a-bloc with it. But to me it is very worrying, because none of them are actually addressing the real problems. Those are population growth and the ever widening wealth gap.

Reducing energy consumption inevitably, in a free market economy, also means reducing expenditure for the consumer. So the crucial question, is what do we spend those savings on? Very often those savings will be spent on something that can actually use more energy than was saved in the first place -- or from a different source. As an example, one could save £50 on an electricity bill (and the energy could even be partly from renewables) and then spend it on going on a three day holiday by air to Majorca. Or buying fresh organic, fair-trade vegetables, flown in from Peru or Kenya. In the developed world we all have too much 'stuff'. Our houses are full of gadgets, we buy new clothes each season (well actually I don't, but many people do). And I make no claims to be greener than anyone else. It is the culture that we have developed over the years, and is virtually inescapable. The reality is that small gestures by individuals really don't have much impact. I am certainly not going to give up my car, or stop flying on holiday. But will certainly vote for a politician who will make it more expensive and more difficult. But unfortunately that's not likely to happen. While politicians are jumping on the carbon bandwagon, they are still encouraging more people to fly to Britain for their holidays. They will still allow cheap imports from China, which are only cheap because the workers are badly paid, and the industries are highly polluting, and do not conform to western H&S standards. I could carry on this rant indefinitely, but the point will no doubt get completely lost.

I see little hope for the future, while governments continue to ignore the fact that the world's human population continues to grow, and standards of living for a minority continue to grow at the expense of the rest. Nearly all governments assume that economies must expand, and that populations must continue to grow. The only conclusion one can come to is that the doom mongers of 25 years ago were only wrong in one respect: they got the timescale wrong. There will be massive problems in the future. Whenever natural disasters occur they will wreak increasing destruction. Epidemics will kill millions in due course, tsunamis will wipe out coastal towns and cities, and if, as I have written many times before, there was an eruption on the scale of Tambora, the loss of crops in the northern hemisphere would cause widespread famine, followed by disease, and undoubtedly wars. It's time the politicians woke up to the fact that climate change, carbon emissions and so on are all symptoms, not the cause of problems.


  1. A week or so ago, the Independent devoted 12-14 pages to the Stern Report. Good hard-hitting stuff about the big problem of anthropogenic climate change. Yet a short letter to the editor was the only comment that the rising human population was the root cause of increasing overexploitation and pollution. And I didn't wholly agree with it! "Organised religion" was blamed but there is only one I know of that frowns on the limitation of breeding (unless you count the Shakers). People like having families. The one country that has seriously tried to limit its population by banning excess babies has only managed by draconian means and, ironically, is set to become the Mother of All Polluters.

  2. Even the Ecologist magazine can't quite bring themselves to give the population issue the publicity it deserves. In the October issue, they put on the cover "It's not just how many; it's how we live that counts". Surely it should have been the other way around - especially since the headline referred to an article by David Nicholson-Lord of the Optimum Population Trust ( who argued that yes, how we live is important, but "zero-impact living is a chimera" and it is human numbers we need to worry about most.

  3. The more you consider it, the more certain it becomes, that the issue of population is THE defining one.

    There is only before - and then after.

    Only when we accept the fact that we HAVE to limit and reduce our overall numbers, will we ever seriously begin to deal with our problems and then be able chart a long term (or frankly even short term) future for our species.

    Look at how all main-stream politicians shy away from this realisation; perhaps because the trouble with living in a fool's paradise - is that you end up in a fool's hell.