Catch up on Norfolk climate change conference
A major event was held in Norfolk on October 31 when six leading experts on climate change were invited via webinar to draw conclusions on whether lessons for climate change can be learned from the human race's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The event, the Norfolk Climate Change Conference, was organised by Willem Buttinger, a retired accountant and Norwich resident. The experts included an associate professor of climate change and biodiversity at the Tyndall Centre in Norwich and Nobel Prize winner; a leading Cambridge University renewable energy academic; two leading Norfolk climate change activists and two well-known Norfolk agricultural experts. The conference was chaired by Geoffrey Smart, a former London PricewaterhouseCoopers partner and current chair the Norfolk Cambridge Society, the alumni association for Cambridge graduates living in Norfolk.
The opening speaker was Hayley Pinto, a well-known psychiatrist and climate activist. Introduced by Geoffrey as a modern-day Emmeline Pankhurst, she gave a most interesting explanation of why we responded adequately to the Covid 19 crisis but are seemingly not able to respond so effectively to a more serious and long-term threat to humanity, drawing on how the human mind has evolved. Rupert Read, an associate Professor of Philosophy, author and well known climate activist then followed with a sobering account of how the only real option was ‘transformative adaptation’. He argued that it is too late to stop global warming and therefore civilisation, as we know it, is under huge threat. The only answer is to work with nature in order to secure a sustainable future that is far less energy-intensive and more socially just.
Next came Dr Pablo Salas Bravo, Deputy Director of the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance at Cambridge University. Using very helpful and informative slides, Pablo was able to demonstrate that renewables can make a huge contribution to reducing greenhouse gases but only with massive investment across the world to replace fossil fuel power stations. Moving to electric vehicles will make no difference to global warming if the electricity they use is produced by fossil fuel power stations. Under close questioning by Geoffrey, he acknowledged that most governments across the world have not yet grasped the massive size of the investment that will be necessary to replace fossil-fuel power stations and the effects on the world economy.
Then came the Nobel Prize winner, Dr Jeff Price, who addressed the question “why would it be foolish to think the scientists are wrong and do nothing?” Jeff explained that accepting scientific arguments is not a question of belief but of trust. Research has shown that the earlier one learns about science in life, the more one trusts it later in life because one understands how much rigorous cross-checking goes into it. He explained that the science of global warming is based on quite simple physics that has been understood in principle since the 1850s, when John Tyndall, a prominent 19th-century Irish physicist, conducted experiments to show that very small concentrations of carbon dioxide warm the atmosphere enormously. This warming effect is in fact necessary for life on Earth to exist. Without it, our planet would be far too cold to support life. However, the climate is extremely sensitive to small increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide and temperatures climb rapidly when these increase. Jeff also referred to the climate change denial industry, which he argued was funded by the fossil fuel industry and used the same techniques as those people who, decades ago, argued that smoking did not cause cancer!
The last two speakers, from the rural sharp end of global warming, dealt with the issues of “how far should the UK lead in carbon dioxide reduction” and “what can and should we do in Norfolk to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change?” Jake Fiennes, the environmental spokesperson for the National Farmers Union and conservation manager for the Holkham Estate, took us through the means that were being developed in Norfolk and elsewhere through biodiversity and land use to dramatically improve carbon capture. This has been supported by our government’s twenty-five-year environment plan and the Environment Bill currently going through parliament. Bill Gates was then quoted by Philip Richardson, a former farmer and author on climate change, in his, the last presentation: ‘Most people over estimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten.’ Philip believed that if we feel strongly about the issue, we should take a moral lead but there is little point in us going carbon neutral if the rest of the world doesn’t follow.
All the speakers were cross-examined by the chair, using questions that had been submitted by the audience before or during the conference. When asked what individual people in Norfolk should do about climate change, they all agreed that individual action to reduce energy consumption is essential but is not enough. We all need to become politically active and pressurise politicians to adopt the right policies nationally and internationally. Fossil fuel power stations have to be replaced.
If you missed the conference you can catch up on YouTube via www.norfolkclimatechangeconference.co.uk
Willem can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org