#50. Would you jump, or wait to be pushed?


County Councillor’s Report.

Well, as anyone who bothered to pick up a local paper or tune in to BBC Radio Shropshire yesterday (Thursday 16 May) will know, yesterday’s Full Council was taken up with an interminable debate about whether Shropshire Council should declare a ‘climate emergency’ and become carbon neutral at some date in the future. The arguments started over that date – 2030 for the Greens (main Motion), 2040 for the Tories (Amendment).

Whilst the general tenor of the Green Party Motion was accepted by Council, the date was the sticking point. In my humble opinion, setting a target date to achieve carbon neutrality, whether 2030 or 2040 misses the point that ANY target is going to be arbitrary because, despite everyone’s best efforts, subject to the whims of, well, Nature. That’s the nature of the beast.

I’ve been involved in the “climate change debate” for about 40 years, ever since I first did an Open University course in the early 1980’s and started subscribing to New Scientist. Back then, what worried everybody was something known as ‘peak oil’, the point at which known reserves of oil would start to diminish after reaching a peak of production. In the opinion of the then Labour government delaying peak oil took precedence over the future of the planet and so the disastrous policy of promoting the development of “more efficient” (= greater mpg figures) diesel engines was begun; until then diesel engines were primarily found in tractors and HGVs. New Scientist predicted a catastrophic rise in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

No one listened.

I despaired.

At the time the science relating to climate change (although then, as now, the tendency was to talk about “global warming”, which to me is too general a term to communicate the full extent of change) was known but was still being openly challenged – not that it isn’t challenged now, but back then the science supporting the argument about the PACE of change was still shaky.

All science needs to establish the soundness of the research underlying a theory. Which is where James Lovelock starts to feature in the story. Lovelock’s theories (brilliantly expressed in his seminal book ‘The Revenge of Gaia’ – read it, it is brilliantly accessible to the lay reader) got a hell of a kicking off the formidable climate change sceptic Richard Dawkins.

Lovelock is a man I am in awe of, not least because he went beyond mere peer review and willingly sought-out critical analysis of his early hypothesis and tested his findings, tentative conclusions, and assumptions against the opposing conclusions, and assumptions of his critics (of which there were many) until he had argued both himself AND his critics to a standstill. At that point his hypothesis (‘a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation’) became the theory that formed the bedrock of modern earth sciences. That the Supreme Arch Sceptic Richard Dawkins came around to endorsing Lovelock’s work, for me says it all.

So the science is sound, rock solid, despite the ignorant insistence of at least two councillors during Thursday’s debate that the science was “still arguable”. The word ‘obdurate’ sprang immediately to my mind!

Which brings us to the question of whether and how we do something meaningful (as against symbolic) about it – beyond bringing a vast chunk of London to a grinding halt and getting arrested in the process – which inevitably gets us involved in a level of forecasting which no-one but a psychic medium would dare claim proficiency in, hence the ridiculous situation of a local authority being expected to decide – in an uncertain financial and political climate – to “be” carbon neutral on a date so far in advance that no one in their right mind would even attempt it.

But then, who said Shropshire Council was in its right mind?

It all got very political, which isn’t just unfortunate it’s damned stupid because the issue is too important for the kind of grandstanding that went on during that debate with local politicians queuing up to establish their climate credentials, in effect laying the ground for their election campaigns in the 2021 Shropshire local elections.

It was all very cynical if you knew where to look, who to look for, and how to listen.

As for me? Well, I voted for 2030. Why not? I had no problem with anyone talking about a “climate emergency” because it’s in my nature that, whenever someone shouts “emergency” I just let them get on with it and meanwhile find a quiet corner out of everybody’s way and start figuring out what’s best to do.

It’s what the British have always done best.

One other book I would recommend without hesitation is Prof. David Mackay’s ‘Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air’, which is freely available as a download, just google the title! It contains all the data you will EVER need to sustain an argument against the sceptics – on both sides of the fence, but try and find the errata and print it all out because a combination of typos and emerging data can throw some of the calculations out. And yes, David Mackay does know about that.



And the ‘discussion paper’ that radically changed my thinking on biomass (to the extent that within hours of reading this paper we had resolved to take out our three-year-old wood burner and replace it with a gas fire) was this one, brought to my attention during my ‘tenure’ on the Green Building Forum (since abruptly ended without notice in a fit of angst-driven picque by the forum’s proprietor). The subsequent forum debate on the GBF is still its longest running feature.

Biomass – a burning issue