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Monday, 15 November 2010

What Does it Mean to Be Green?

Institute of Geosciences of the Universidade F...Image via Wikipedia
For some, the Green movement is a political choice, for others, it’s a spiritual matter and yet others see it as a social issue, especially relevant to the future lives of their children. Many people see it as all three, of course. And yet others think it is all so much hype and hysteria – though who, exactly, would gain from such a programme of disinformation about the environment is difficult to pin down.

As a parent, I want to leave behind a world fit for my daughter, and any children she may have, to inhabit. I would prefer to leave the place better than I found it. So, I belong to Greenpeace, and have done since the 1980s. My wife belongs to Friends of the Earth. We pool their information and do what we can to support both organisations.

Are all the warnings about climate change (or global warming, if that’s your preferred term) justified? The climate is a hugely complex system and local weather, on its own, is no clue to what is happening on a global scale. It is the accumulation of changes, extremes and effects that point to serious movement in the way our climate works. Almost without exception, the statistics indicate that the Earth’s atmosphere is altering to the detriment of humankind. I have no fear for the planet itself or life in general: they will continue for untold eons, with or without us. But there are signs that our input to the climate is generally destructive in the way it affects humans as a species. Already, some crops are failing, the water table in many areas - India’s Punjab and Israel’s disputed territory are obvious examples – is dropping to a point where it will soon be unusable. We are experiencing many examples of extreme weather in the form of floods, droughts, hurricanes, ice storms, forest fires etc. Some people believe that because their own local weather is improving, there is no problem. But local weather patterns on their own are no indicators of the general health of the climate over the planet.

Way back in the early 80s, Greenpeace predicted that we would see extremes in the weather all over the world due to global warming. And what do we have today? Extremes in local weather all over the globe. Isn’t that a surprise?

If we accept that mankind is the prime mover in this change (and the naysayers will blame the Sun – a long discredited theory; or cyclical changes – also not a valid defence, as the rate of change we are experiencing is unprecedented) then we need to know whether there is anything we can do about it as individuals. We cannot trust governments to take the necessary steps, unless we are prepared to back their unpalatable changes with action.

Recycling comes a poor second to making things last longer and repairing stuff that needs replacing. We consume as though the planet’s resources were inexhaustible but there are already signs that we will run out of some our basic needs in the near future. It is not unlikely that the next round of wars and conflicts will arise over claims to drinking water. Then will come disputes over food production, as the world’s population exceeds the planet’s ability to support it. Millions are starving today; if they were fed to the level of the most highly consuming societies, there simply wouldn’t be enough food to go round. So, we would struggle to feed a world with its current 6.5 Bn; what will we do with a population of 9 Bn, due around 2050?

Is it feasible to slow down population growth, surely a prime cause of our problems, or better, to reduce it?
Can we persuade people to reduce car use? Will increased nuclear power help reduce the effects of growing fuel use? Will commercial and political interests allow the introduction of factors other than purely material one to be included in pricing, so that the real costs to the planet can be reflected in what we use and buy?

I put these statements and questions to attract comment and debate and invite you to make your contribution here and now.

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