In my early teens, back in the 1960s I wrote a brief poem titled ‘under sunlight rays’. It was my first real statement of concern about the damage we were doing to our environment. It was also my first attempt at poetry.
There stood a tree in my childhood days
And there grew grass under sunlight rays
But where are these now so rare
Under the concrete lain so bare
My children Will not know
In the world in which they'll grow
They will read it in a book
And I Will say look
There grew a tree in my childhood days
And there grew grass under sunlight rays
It was my first insight into the loss of our forests of trees, but little did I know then just how important they were.
There Is considerable anxiety about President-elect Donald Trump, and not least because he does not accept Global warming is man made. He believes it is a Chinese hoax.
The concept of global warming, he says, was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.
Trump says he wants to cancel the 2015 Paris agreement combatting climate change. It is an agreement signed by almost 200 nations. Is this Trump’s folly? Or do we need a new global politics?
It is difficult with Trump to know whether to take him seriously. Much of what he has said during the election campaign might have been posturing. He can pick things up only to discard them when they are no longer of use. A Trump presidency may look very different to the portrait of the campaign. But who knows? The only thing of which we are certain is that with Trump nothing is certain.
At a time when we need the US to engage in the world positively on climate change, the danger now is that it will withdraw into a protectionist war.
Yet, there is a curious truth in what Trump says about the workings of the global economy. He is also correct in saying the system is broken. The neoliberal myth of the benefits of global free markets is exposed. It has failed.
Putting aside his strange notion about a Chinese conspiracy, he is right to conclude that tackling climate change is made more difficult by the structure of International free trade.
Flooding the international market with cheap goods and raw materials, pushes down prices and increases consumption. Cheap imports flood western markets. But it also increases climate change emissions.
Countries like the USA and the UK claim to be meeting their emissions targets. But this is only because the goods they consume are produced elsewhere, particularly in India and China. Our consumption is still polluting.
It is time for a fundamental rethink. We need to put global politics back into economics. We need to do this because how we trade is political. It is a choice.
The choice of whether we grow our own food, produce our own goods, and how we do this, is as much a political decision as it is economic.
If we manufacture goods in the UK, then we can invest in new environmentally friendly technologies. We can control the emissions produced by our production and consumption. We cannot do this if we simply import what we need.
Back in the early 1990s my concern for the environment and possible man-made climate change led me to read the first report of the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change. It gave several possible scenarios based on different assumptions used in modelling the trends of global temperature. It also cautioned about inadequate data. At that time it was difficult to be certain, but their was increased concern.
I can understand why many scientists at that time were sceptical about the interpretation of the data, and the assumptions made in the models. There was indeed insufficient data to be clear what was happening to global temperatures, let alone man’s contribution. I was also sceptical.
I considered we might be experiencing a regular cycle of global warming. I even wrote some letters to newspapers about it, published in The Times amongst others. But that was almost 3 decades ago. As each report came through year on year, manmade climate change became increasingly certain.
Human-induced climate change is caused by the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere mainly over the past 100 years.
Considering the increased population and rapid industrialisation in modern times, with increased output of carbon emissions, with the loss of forests, and changes in our oceans, we have drastically reduced the carbon buffering processes that help stabilise our climate.
Climate change is real, and it is now certain we are contributing to it. The consequences are profound.
We need 'global action' against climate change. Saving the planet requires difficult choices. But which politician is going to be brave enough to tell us the truth, that we must change the way we live?
For the most part the West has already contributed its share of global emissions. The damage is done. Now, developing countries will have to be persuaded that there are better ways to economic growth and prosperity.
There is an urgent need to end, and reverse deforestation - We all know it. but in what market can we effectively express that demand? It is a political decision, and those economies affected will need to be compensated to allow them to make such decisions. We cannot rely on price alone to stop deforestations.
As the human population continues to grow, so does the need for more food. Rising demand has created incentives to convert forests to farm and pasture land to grow food, and make biofuels.
Once a forest is lost to agriculture, it is usually gone forever—along with many of the plants and animals that once lived there. It is the major threat to bio-diversity.
It is estimated that 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation. Yet, some 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year—equivalent to 36 football fields every minute. 17% of the Amazon rain forest has been lost in the last 50 years, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching. Do we consider this when we buy a can of corned beef?
The loss of our forests is happening as I speak, and it will continue while you listen.
Here in the UK 85% of domestic demand for wood products is met from imports, amounting to a value of around £6 billion annually.
Sweden, Latvia, Finland, Russia and Estonia together account for nearly 90% of all UK sawn softwood imports. We need to build more housing and this will require more wood unless other materials are used. We know that whatever we do there is an environmental impact both locally and globally. In terms of environmental impact, we are not an island. Our choices have impact on others across the globe and on future generations.
The cost of pollution is real, but it is rarely factored into ‘production costs’. The cost of polluting now is met by future generations or by the public in clearing up the mess, or adjusting to the consequences of climate change. Those who produce greenhouse gas emissions are therefore imposing potentially huge costs on other people over time, yet our tax system and the prices we pay do not reflect this. We are using the world’s resources, but future generations will have to bare the cost.
Melting glaciers will initially increase flood risk and then strongly reduce water supplies, eventually threatening one-sixth of the world’s population, predominantly in the Indian sub-continent, parts of China, and the Andes in South America.
Declining crop yields, especially in Africa, could leave hundreds of millions without the ability to produce or purchase sufficient food.
Climate change is expected to increase worldwide deaths from malnutrition and heat stress. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever could become more widespread if effective control measures are not in place.
Rising sea levels will result in tens to hundreds of millions more people flooded each year with warming of 3 or 4°C.
Ecosystems will be particularly vulnerable to climate change, with around 15 - 40% of species potentially facing extinction. And ocean acidification, a direct result of rising carbon dioxide levels, will have major effects on marine ecosystems, with possible adverse consequences on fish stocks.
President elect Donald Trump is correct when he says the system is broken. He is not alone in saying so. We need a new approach. The best way to stop migration is to address the issues driving it - war, poverty and opportunity. It is estimated that climate change will be a major factor in driving migration as ecosystems fail.
But are we prepared to pay the price to stop and reverse this? Would voters elect a leader who promises to increase the price of food? Or to increase taxes to help pay for new environmentally friendly technologies? I doubt it.
You can also hear this on The Thin End:
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