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The Climate Change Abyss

2005

MPs are regularly battered with scares and anxieties.

A branch of Samaritans dedicated to MPs would do brisk business after our Saturday constituents’ surgeries. But nothing compares to the gloom created by briefings we have had recently on the Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

The more eminent the scientist, the more terrified they are of global threats. Within a decade or two we will hit several tipping points that could push us into irreversible change. It’s not conjecture.

The evidence is building now in Wales. Villages in the Conway Valley that expect significant flooding once every 20 years have had 3 in the past 18 months. Mean temperatures have risen by 1°C rise in Wales over the past three years compared with the 1960-1990 period. Major tidal surges in the channel at Newport have historically been once each century. Now, they arrive every 5 years.

Quietly spoken and cautious, the Government’s Chief Scientist Sir David King convinced the committee that doomsday is nigh. He backed the disputed notion that runaway change would occur if the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeded 400. Before the industrial revolution therewere 280. Now there are 380 and rising. That could send the Greenland icecap into an uncontrollable meltdown that would raise sea levels eighteen feet, he warned the committee.

Government Minister Bill Rammell blamed commercial vested interests for sabotaging the scientists’ warnings. Swift remedial action should be happening now worldwide. So far government here has caved in on all major remedies. The heavy industry lobby forced a reduction of 80% in the Climate Change Levy. Then government filched the payments from the national insurance fund. It was cowardice in the face of the rural and car lobbies that have disgracefully reduced the cost of motoring by cancelling essential fuel rises and increasing pollution.

A splendid World Wildlife Fund booklet ‘Cry Wolf’ chronicles the exaggerations by business lobbies on the cost of environmental reforms. They have falsely claimed that catalytic converters would cost £600 a car. In practice it was less that £60 and greatly improved fuel consumption. The Jeremiahs predicated that the US Clean Air act would cost $91bn. The final bill was $26 plus benefits worth $192 billion.

President Bush is still the slave of his advisers from the oil industry. As my colleague Alan Simpson said ‘When push comes to shove, it’s the environment that always gets the shove.’

There is no shortage of practical remedies. We cannot tax aircraft fuel but we can and must tax their emissions as the greatest single source of pollution.An immediate windfall tax on oil and gas producers could be invested in renewables. We should legislate that new buildings should self-generate energy and recycle their own water. Some cities in the world already do.

Instead of leading other nations with examples of good practices, we are infecting them with our own chronic lassitude. The Chinese Government has guaranteed their population that within the next 10 years every family with one child will have one car, shifting car ownership from 33 per 1,000 to 333 per 1,000. In world terms that’s not an unreasonable promise. But if they fulfill their promise with conventional cars, the planet will suffocate.

Munich Re, the world’s biggest reinsurance company claims that on current trends the global economy could be bankrupt by 2050 because of the sheer cost of making good the damage done as a result of climate change. We are failing to reach many of the environmental goals we set for the planet. We need a mandatory world environment programme. Commercial firms must be convinced of the need to change from selling gross consumption to selling conservation.

Alongside global warming are the kindred threats of
global dimming and the world water crisis.

Exporting a tonne of grain is sending from one country to another the 1,000 tonnes of water it took to cultivate it. With meat that figure can be multiplied sevenfold. Already areas like the Middle East have exhausted their water supplies. We are plundering the historic aquifers that will not be replenished for millennia. The prospect of water refugees and water wars are imminent. The demand from China for massive grain imports, even in years without droughts, is a warning of a mounting international crisis. Remedies are possible in controlled recycling and intelligent irrigation. But the problem is still only dimly recognized.

The best reason for voting Labour in the General Election was our declared elevation of global warming as the prime world crisis. There must be no faltering. Politicians have a duty to lead and educate public opinion and not to pander to its lowest common denominator of ignorance and prejudice.

As a Newport MP, I take some comfort from the changes on my own hearth. The city is the inspired choice as the venue for the European Union's Foreign Ministers’ September meeting on global warming and Africa. The city leads Wales on environmental work, including Europe's largest and most efficient fridge disposal plant, handling 700,000 units a year, the new rail link that has moved 50,000 lorry journeys from road to rail, and the world's largest industrial shredder, which recycles material from 450 end-of-life vehicles an hour. The city new school at Rogerstone will be a model of sustainability. Newport Wastesavers in June won a national competition as the UK’s most successful household waste recyclers. It would be beneficial if the visiting ministers and journalists could inspect the city's unique potential for renewable power enterprises by harnessing the world's second highest tidal range. The immense potential has been mysteriously neglected even though its potential is immense, carbon-free, clean and eternal.


All the piffling issues of the General Election are dwarfed by the crushing global threats. Our donkey-brained leaders could take us over the precipice. We need a paradigm shift to change our fundamental assumption on the way we live and how we run our economies. Action should be massive and swift.

The alternative is to continue stealing a sustainable human habitat from our grandchildren.