Wednesday, 25 June 2014

What is the right level of response to anthropogenic induced climate change?

I was recently in the audience for a debate hosted by the Foundation for Science and Technology entitled ‘What is the right level of response to anthropogenic induced climate change?’ The speakers had ten minutes each to make their points, after which the audience members were invited to comment and pose questions.

The four speakers were Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Adviser; David Davies MP for Monmouth, Professor Jim Skea, Imperial College London and Committee on Climate Change; and The Rt Hon Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden. The two scientists were arguing that we need significant and immediate action to tackle climate change to avoid catastrophic events and the politicians saw this as an extreme reaction from an economic point of view given their perceived uncertainty of the scientific evidence. Points of contention included how much of climate change can actually be attributed to human activity and how accurate the modelling used to predict the effects of climate change is. 

I feel the debate reflected the current global status of the issue. There is no dispute that the climate is changing. Some disagreements surface when it comes to how much of this change is ‘natural’ and how much has been caused by us, and the real uncertainty surfaces when key decision makers are asked ‘what should be we be doing about this?’

I have often questioned whether it’s fair for the developed world to deny the developing countries their right to advance and grow. I do believe that experiences and mistakes should be shared but stifling the growth of these countries by imposing carbon emissions targets would be a crime. As a result, I am undecided on this topic and I have yet to see a compelling argument to swing my opinion either way.

I actually prefer to flip the problem upside down. Forgetting all about climate change, I can look at my own life and ask do I need to eat fruits imported from exotic countries? Do I need to eat meat every day? Do I need new clothes every season? Do I need the central heating on at 20°C? Do all these things actually add to the value of my life and what effect does my consumption have on others? It is very quick and easy for me to come to the logical conclusion that much of this can be changed or eliminated. If everyone did this, would it reduce our emissions? I know this is easier said than done and I am perfectly aware that reducing consumerism will have an enormous economic impact, but it’s still worth thinking about.