If it was not for the horrid sense of ultimate danger the study of climate change would be one of the most fascinating topics out there. It has the glorious position of having one end fixed by the laws of physics and at the other end it could involve weighing up some things which you would never normally want to put on weighing scales, like should poor people stay poor in order to limit CO2 output? Or should we invest in sea ( and immigration) defences in the developed world and leave those in vulnerable places to their own devices?
Some options are harsh, but if temperatures rise by 5C you can be pretty sure they will be on the agenda.
At present I belong to Transition Chichester, which is part of a now International movement to encourage everyone at every level to make the Transition to more sustainable living, which is not only about energy but also about health and happiness, education, jobs, economics (we even have our own currency, the Tchi).
But all this makes no sense if we have not got the numbers right. In October over 700 turned up for a Transition event in the City centre, but maybe we need 7000, or 70,000?
Without hot air is a good start to having someone do some numbers for us as really, very few of us can do the numbers in depth, we just don’t have the access to the detail, or the skills, knowledge or even time.
But maybe our job is not to do the numbers but to do something else, which is to make our own decisions about how we feel about risk. A lot of the time we make pretty stupid decisions (me too) based on crazily biased ideas about risk. So we carry on smoking and driving while texting on the mobile phone (I saw a woman leaving the church car park doing this!) but we only go to ‘safe places’ on holiday even though actually almost all places in the world are pretty safe really, just don’t go around with gold bracelets on.
So let’s look at risk. Some of risk is about odds, statistics of possibility, one thing or another.
So, what would you say is unacceptable as a risk for the whole world going into terminal decline because of climate change. Maybe 1/500,000? More than that would worry you? What about meteorite strikes? Just shows how unbiased I am on reporting something from Fox News! A Hiroshima bomb’s worth of energy hits the atmosphere on average once a year.
OK, if 1/500,000 you have now rated that risk of global catastrophe as the same as if you might get struck by lightning! So you take action to avoid getting struck by lightning, but most people don’t take action to avoid climate change.
Risk is never easy to make a good judgement on. Most specialists are saying the risk of serious climate change is much much much higher than 1/500,000. Even that some seriously damaging climate change is 100% likely!
So my logic goes like this:
If I think there is more than a 1 in 100 chance of very serious climate change (and I think it is much, much higher than that), the consequences are such that we should all take serious decisions about changing to more sustainable living.
So coming back to Transition Chichester, what it means is having 70,000 people signed up for significant changes in lifestyle, not 700 doing ‘their bit’. This is not a criticism of Transition. Great people who are at least trying to do something, but we must aim higher.
For those who protest that they do not want their ‘standard of living to drop, 2 things. First, if things get serious your standard of living won’t drop, it will plummet. Second, maybe serious change is not so hard. Cycling to the station is on 90% of days very pleasant, and could be quicker. If you are a boss, do people really need to come into work every day? And that includes you?
Green decision making got into fashion for a short while and then recession hit and suddenly it was all about saving money. Sales of Rolls Royces went up by a big amount in 2011, including a massive increase in the UK! I don’t think they are solar powered yet.
Climate change is all about numbers, and that includes your numbers and my numbers, but I think I should end on a happy note.
Poor people seem to be happier than rich people.
Think about it. The big risk to being richer is being unhappier, so maybe earn less, live more, be happier.
PS – No human being has been killed by a meteor strike in 1000 years! Now isn’t that reassuring!