Why have we done this?
Well, this site is really about actions and not prohibitions – what we can do, rather than just what we shouldn’t. We do not wear hair shirts at Climate Answers and we are born optimists!
And, if you think about what sort of things can be done, these break down neatly into what our engineers and scientists can achieve, what our politicians and their advisors should be doing and thinking about and, finally (but no less importantly), what the active citizen can do.
Let me show you what we mean …
Technological answers include:
- Renewable electricity. This can be from wind (the UK has the best European wind resource), wave, tidal and biomass. In addition, solar PV (photovoltaic) has enormous global potential (but less so in the UK for obvious reasons).
- Renewable heat.This can be generated from:
- biogas from sewage and compost gas;
- geothermal heat; and
- solar thermal panels for heating hot water (a better UK option than PV).
Renewable electric heating will also play an increasingly important role.
- Electric cars, lorries and buses. This is better in carbon terms than using oil, even if the electricity is generated using the current UK power mix. As the electricity becomes lower carbon, the climate advantages of electric vehicles will increase. Gas and hydrogen vehicles are less good (at the moment), but for practical reasons.
- Biofuels for aviation. Electric planes are not practical, and hydrogen planes are not yet available. Biofuels have been widely (and rightly) criticised for having almost as high life-cycle carbon emissions as oil, but newer biofuels will improve in this respect. Conversion of land from growing food to growing iofuels has contributed to global food shortages. So biofuels should be used for aviation, not for surface vehicles, which should run on electricity.
- Hydrogen gasometers. These can be used to store power from intermittent wind, wave and tidal sources.
- Nuclear power. This is better in climate terms than fossil fuels. The world will need a major increase in electricity generation, as economies grow and oil is replaced by electricity. This will be the case, however much progress is made on energy efficiency. The environmental problems of nuclear power, while real, are less serious than climate change. The main threat is from weapons proliferation (see The case for nuclear power for a further discussion of these issues).
- Carbon capture and storage (CCS). The UK is well placed for this. Old oil and gas fields in the North Sea are ideal for CCS and the UK has the potential to become the world leader in this technology, with major employment advantages as well as climate ones. However, the UK needs to move extremely fast, otherwise the US, under Obama, will win this prize.
- Geo-engineering. The best of the current options is ‘biochar’ – growing trees (so removing carbon from atmosphere), then partially burning them to create charcoal, and burying the charcoal. This has immense potential, not only to reduce the increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon, but actually to reduce it.
Public policy answers include:
- Regulations. An entirely free market does not protect the climate. The EU has been positive in some respects – banning incandescent light bulbs is a minor step forward. However, there are many more steps that should be taken at EU and/or UK level. For example, CCS should be mandatory (and retrofitted to existing stations) by 2020 and inefficient vehicles should be banned.
- ‘Cap-and-trade’ systems. The EU has led the way on this, with the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), although it remains far from perfect. Obama will adopt this approach in the US, though it will be hard for him to get it through Congress.
- Reforming agriculture. This should be done to promote low-carbon options, with no public subsidy for beef or dairy.
- A significant ‘green fiscal reform’. Taxes must be reduced on desirable issues like employment, and increased on carbon. This issue will become more important socially and politically, given the need for significant public expenditure at a time of recession and rising unemployment.
- A publicly-funded programme. This should be to renew infrastructure, increase energy-efficiency and speed transition to a zero-carbon economy. It will also create many new jobs.
Behavioural answers include:
- Holidaying by train. There will not be enough biofuel for cheap holiday flights.
- Travelling by public transport or bicycle. This should be done whenever possible.
- Buying organic. This can be up to 30% lower in carbon terms than intensive agriculture
- Giving up beef and dairy products. Beef is the highest carbon meat, and cattle also produce methane. However, the debate should not be between an omnivore approach and a vegetarian/vegan one. Chicken and eggs have low carbon footprints, as do fish. It is important to remember that a ‘climate diet’ is different from an animal rights diet or a broader environmental diet, and is consistent with nutritional requirements.