Thursday, 7 January 2010

Does Global Warming Really Exist? My Green Awakening.

My local MP (member of parliament, for those of you reading not in the UK), Gary Streeter, recently confessed in our local newspaper (‘Plymptom, Plymstock and Ivybridge News’, Friday 18th December) and on his blog that he his sceptical of global warming. He agrees that the climate is changing, but questions whether it is us that are causing it or whether it is happening naturally.

He says ‘I have a confession, which will disappoint some. I have tried really heard to buy into the hard-core green agenda over the past few years but something inside prevents me from going the whole way. I realise that pumping carbon into our atmosphere can hardly be a good thing, but is it really causing a change in weather patterns of this awesome globe on which we live? I want to believe and yet…’

Gary then goes on to suggest that the scientists could be wrong because the people that built the Titanic said that it could never be sunk and that economists have been saying for the last 15 years that there will never be another recession. He suggests that experts can be wrong or can have their own agenda and that the nation is divided on the issue of global warming , the evidence being streets still full of Christmas lights. He also says that the issue of CO2 does not really matter anyway because gas and oil is running out and energy conservation is going to be driven by this driving economic fact.

He believes that reducing carbon footprint should generally be encouraged and carbon production gradually disincentivised, and that we should take care of the planet, but at a pace that we can afford.

I welcome Gary’s honesty and think he sums up what ‘many’ politicians and indeed ordinary folk truly believe on this matter. And herein lies the problem.

Gary says that he has ‘tried really hard’ to believe, but that something inside him stops him. Gary tried really hard to believe, but his heart did not want to believe. And who can blame it? People throughout the ages, in all different situations, nearly always chose to believe in what they want to believe - what sits nicely, what makes them feel comfortable. Questioning any core values or assumptions and accepting something as not true that one previously believed was true, at inconvenience to oneself, is always a very difficult thing to do. What bigger a challenge can there be to one’s assumptions than that which questions the very existence of man, or at least mankind as we currently know it, and if not in this generation very possibly in just the next?

Canadian research in 2007 reported that talking about the crisis of global warming actually stops people getting motivated to take action on climate change - much better to talk about economics and advances in technology if you want people to act - and for this reason I believe many leading green organisations are actually hold back from laying down the hard cold facts. Contrary to public belief that scientists are scaremongering, I believe they may actually be trying to explain the situation as gently as they can, for fear of turning people off the issue altogether.

But if people really believed that we were jeopardising all of our children’s futures by the way we were living today, would everyone then be prepared to change the way that they live? It is easy to risk our own futures - people do it every day, by smoking for example - but to jeopardise our children’s futures - that adds a new dimension of responsibility. Women are happy to continue smoking and drinking at risk to their own future, but much less are they likely to do so when carrying their unborn child in their womb. Of course some mothers-to-be still continue to live in denial of the damage they are doing, but only a minority. So if everyone were to believe that our continued consumption without concern for the future is likely to cause environmental instability for their children that will see many low lands washed away, warm countries in severe drought, increased hurricanes and extreme weather in places not previously seen, increased flooding on a massive scale, scarcity of food due to failure of crops, increased migration, an increase in wars over dwindling resources, people dying of thirst (not just starvation)…..I could go on, but then I would likely turn you off since this probably sounds like science fiction and too hard for your mind to comprehend. But this fact remains, that there is a very real risk that without us all making real changes now through almost every choice that we make, whilst our children if they are lucky might just get a job and a house on a hill and food on their table, many millions of people in the world likely won’t, and will that be a happy secure place in which they may grow their own families?

Climate change is happening. CO2 in the environment contributes to increased temperatures. These facts are not disputed. The only real debate to be had is whether this phenomenon is man made or a natural cycle and whether anything we can do (or stop doing) is likely to change the process.

The dinosaurs could do nothing to prevent their demise; they just continued to act as nature had intended, and one day nature destroyed them. Mankind however is unlike any other creature to exist or to have existed. We do not act purely on natural instincts; we choose how to act. It is our choice and our intelligence combined that gives us the power to protect or destroy ourselves, and it is the choices that we choose to make each and every day that alter the future for our children, whether we like it or not.

At school we all studied the ecosystem, how everything depends on each other, and how little changes can have big effects. Remove some little creature from the food chain, for example, and much bigger creatures in the rest of the chain are effected. One could argue that it is irrelevant whether global warming is man made or a natural occurrence, but for sure everything we do has an effect on our ecosystem. The choices we make now will effect what we do in the future. Can we reverse deforestation, cut down on pollution and reduce our CO2 emissions enough to stop global warming in time to avoid real hardship? We may be able to, if we all pull together in the right direction. Isn’t it worth a try? Is it worth the risk to do otherwise?

Gary Streeter argues that energy will be conserved anyway in the coming years due to the dwindling resources of oil and gas. The fact that fossil fuel resources are diminishing gives me hope for the future of our climate, but we need to slow down the consumption of fossil fuels quickly, and stop cutting down the rain forest, and get the growing population under control, etc, then our planet may cope with the amount of CO2 that is released over time from the remaining fossil fuels - but continued consumption fuelling economic growth at the current rate (never mind the explosion of development predicted for the emerging markets) will likely see irreversible, and quite possibly catastrophic, damage before we ever reach the end of our oil supplies. Political moves to alternative forms of energy other than that of oil and gas without an acceptance of the problem of CO2 emissions will result in continued emissions through the burning of waste, for example, instead of fossil fuels in their original form.

I am always reluctant to believe politicians for the simple reason that they need to keep in power to keep their positions in their job and in society. For this reason I believe many politicians are influenced primarily by economics and popularity. The current wave of green interest amongst politicians is I believe driven by the looming crisis of dwindling oil supplies, plus popularity (jumping on the bandwagon). The green banner is waved around to get consumers to adapt to a less oil dependant way of life to the benefit of their local economies - but how many politicians really believe that cutting down CO2 emissions is the most important thing, really? Like did we go to war with Iraq because of Saddam Hussein and to free the Iraqi people? No, we went to get control of their oil. And did we really go to war with Afghanistan because of Bin Laden or to liberate Afghan women or to stop the Taliban invading western countries? No, we went to ‘stabilise’ a country so that we could build a crucial new gas pipeline through the country. And do politicians really want to reduce CO2 to prevent millions of people starving and getting washed away? I don‘t thinks so; politicians mostly want to stop people consuming energy because the word is running out of oil. Politicians were never really that bothered before about people starving or getting washed away, so why now? That doesn’t however mean that global warming doesn’t exist. Many politicians know that global warming exists, I think they just aren’t that motivated by it enough to act on it, and like Gary, have something inside of them that just won’t allow them to really accept it is happening.

So the main motivation behind the current political action is likely based on oil dependence, not global warming. And because of this, if politicians can find a way of decreasing oil dependence, whilst keeping the public happy enough to keep them in power, they will do so, whatever the costs to the environment. This is why we start to see the emergence of new technologies and solutions often posing as green, yet frequently doing just as much (if not more) environmental damage than before (just with less dependence on fossil fuels). These schemes will get government backing so long as the economics look right and the public are in favour of them in the run up to an election - but if public opinion moves against such schemes, the politicians will likely carry on regardless, influenced by powerful corporations, unless they are at high risk of losing their seats.

Here just are a few examples that I know about which are encouraged by governments, under the banner ‘green’, which are actually very damaging to the environment :

  • Farming for Biofuels - rain forests are being gut down to provide land to produce crops for biofuels, resulting in a far greater CO2 hit than the CO2 emissions prevented from the fuel produced, and resulting in food shortages for local populations. http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/
  • Mining of Rare Earth Metals - crucial for the fabrication of wind turbines, energy saving cars and low energy light bulbs - the majority of which are currently mined in China using environmentally very polluting and dangerous methods with little protection for workers and disastrous consequences for inhabitants of the surrounding lands. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgAZOffMj5Y
  • Energy from Waste (incineration) - burning of municipal waste in large scale incinerators which generate electricity. Energy from waste facilities have been painted green by large money making corporations with the argument that the energy they produce results in a reduced carbon footprint, based on the alternative of leaving rubbish to rot in landfill, thereby producing methane gasses. But the alternatives to in incineration are not untreated landfill, massive amounts of CO2 are produced, and the energy benefits are soon lost should the percentage of paper and plastics being burnt decrease (since temperatures fall, which result in the furnaces requiring the import of gas to keep the fires hot enough to avoid the release of dioxins). Incineration leaves the growing problem of ash disposal (26% of the original waste volume), risk of emissions (especially when plants are not working at their optimum) and the undermining of increasingly valuable recycling activities. http://www.no-burn.org/

As the issue of oil dependence becomes an ever growing problem, watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing. New technologies and incentives all need careful scrutinising for the knock on effects on our ecosystem, and in particular their real cost of CO2 , before they should be classed as green.

Now back to the topic of Gary Streeter and his beliefs:

Gary likens the green movement to that of another religion: ‘This new-found focus on climate change must not become another religion’. I understand the comparison. To believe that your very existence is under threat leads one to start to live in a different way and can effect every choice that you make, should you also believe that the little choices that one makes many times every day could influence the ultimate outcome of existence. However, unlike religions that are concerned with the preservation of the soul for the afterlife, the green movement is very much concerned with the preservation of mankind in this life, not in the one after.

The green movement could be considered by some as a threat to religion itself, especially since green activists are often portrayed as ‘humanists’ and sometimes sun worshipping eco warriors, but in my mind it is totally in harmony with the fundamental beliefs of all religions - putting other people’s interests, especially the weak and powerless, above one’s own, and certainly above selfish economical motivations. The green movement actually provides a uniting motivation, to preserve life, that unites people from all religions and all walks of life. Is the world in need of another religion? I don’t think so. Is the world in need of unity? I’ll let you answer that one.

I’m not mocking Gary, not in the slightest. I appreciate his honesty - that has to be the basis of all progress and I think it would help if more politicians were open enough to say what they really felt on this matter. And until recently, I have to admit I actually felt something similar. There was something inside of me that was really reluctant to embrace the whole green way of living - something there that is always reluctant to believe the hype - which is usually misguided. Plus I am a people person - my interest was more to do with human rights and health care - I left the environment to other people to worry about and sort out.

But then a few things happened to me that made the change. These things I guess were spiritual, which maybe confirms Gary’s religious suspicions. The first was something that clicked inside of me that jolted my out of a defeatist apathetic attitude to many aspects of my daily life, after a nasty brush with the swine flu (previously blogged about). At this point I was given an understanding that bad things happen in this world because good guys let them (all those nice people keeping themselves to themselves). This changed the way I looked at life and made choices, since I found in myself the new belief that everything I did, or did not do, could actually mean I was in some way culpable of some of the many atrocities that happen in this world. This is what led me to taking a greater interest in the local world around me and soon led to me getting involved in our campaign against the plan to build an incinerator in our neighbourhood.

But I still hadn’t had that all important environmental awakening. That happened to me early in the morning of Friday 20th November (the day before our public meeting was to take place about the proposed incinerator). What happened was a dream, or vision if you like. Telling you this will likely get me burnt at the stake, but I’ll tell you anyway, and you can make of it what you will.

I’ve always been a bit if a dreamer. At key times in my life I have had significant dreams that come to me very clearly, different from my other dreams, usually set against a black background, often with an almost audible voice or message on top that stays with me when I wake up. Sometimes these dreams are about relative strangers and situations of which I know nothing. I have always made an effort to tell the people that are in my dreams what I saw for them to make of them what they will - and until now they have always been of remarkable significance. So now when I have one of these dreams (which recently I hadn’t had I think for the previous 4 years) I know straight away to sit up and take note. Of course I don’t expect you to believe me, I would be very sceptical myself if someone told me a similar thing about themselves, or you may believe me but think me loopy - but I’m not too concerned about that either since a friend recently told me that it is when people start to think I am bonkers that I will know I am having a real impact.

I’m afraid that there is no way of explaining my green conversion without this dream, so I figure the best way is to just tell it as I saw it.

I was stood in water in something like the shallow waters of a sea. It was also at the bottom of a valley, and there was a single path up out of the valley, with some kind of animal gate, like a turnstile, half way up the hill, through which people had to pass to get down to the water or up the hill. There were lots of people in the water, children playing, women washing clothes, men bathing. People were from all different nationalities, wearing all different clothes, but in particular I remember seeing a lot or people in traditional Indian dress. Everyone was doing different things, moving in different directions, going about their business. Some people were swimming out too far and then older ladies started wading out after them to call them back, telling the people that they were going too far. Then the waters started to rise, and rise very quickly. People started to panic. Some people tried to go out to sea to save those further out, others started to try and push their way up the hill, but there was a bottleneck and not many could get up. Many people started to get washed away. Then I was transported to a sea barrier, that I imagine was like the Thames barrier, and from there I stood and watched whilst people got washed out to sea. I felt great fear, and then sadness, and began to wake.

I opened my eyes for a brief moment. I was aware of being awake and being fully aware of what I was seeing. I lay down again with some peace and started the dream again.

Exactly the same start. I was in the water in exactly the same place, with all the same people doing the same things. I saw the people swimming out too far and felt that that waters were soon to start rising and anticipated the panic. Then I heard a voice telling me to tell everyone to join hands, which I did. And then the voice said to tell everyone to pull in the same direction, moving slowly up the hill, which we did. Then the sea started to rise, as before, but we were strong and could pull back the people who had gone deep into the sea, and we all slowly moved up the hill together. I started to wake up. I was not completely certain that we had started pulling in time, but I had the feeling that we may have been just in time. There was no panic. No one person had to pull more than the others. We all pulled together.

As I started to wake up I asked what was meant by the holding of hands, and the voice said to me that it was communication. People had to start communicating. Society is broken, it needs rebuilding. It is together when we communicate and pull together in the same direction that we are strong.

I woke up and knew that this dream was a warning about global warming. I swear until that day I hadn’t really given it much thought, and would have been much happier to believe the articles that were soon to appear in the newspapers saying that it was all just a big lie to get us to pay more taxes. I went downstairs and turned on the TV. Cumbria had been flooded in the night (no it wasn’t on the news the night before). A close relative of mine works with the environment in the Lake District so was able to give me a first hand account, which had an even greater impact.

So this was my green awakening, but I don’t expect it to come like that to everyone. The worst case scenario of global warming is a truly terrifying prospect that I know we would all sooner deny. Much easier to surround ourselves with material possessions and drink ourselves stupid to forget the cares in this world. I hope we may all find courage to face up to the facts of global warming and urge everyone to err on the side of caution and to make the changes we can to do our best to provide a stable future for our children, before it is too late.

I am a people person, but now I realise that if we don't start respecting the laws of nature and putting our environment first, there may be little point in worrying about healthcare and human rights.