CLIMATE CHANGE
Some thoughts
By
Mike Crompton
Chair, Derbyshire Rural Community Council,
28 January 2008

 

Not a scientist: can only pick up what seems to be consensual opinion.  But certainly some factors seem to emerge:

What these phenomena signify in human terms - in UK terms - is not hard to work out. 

 

Of course the populations are not going to stay there with wet feet or worse: they will be displaced.  Where will they move to?  Well logically, higher ground.  In extremis, can 60% of the UK population be accommodated on the land over say 200 feet?  Probably.  But what do we feed on when much of our arable and fertile lowlands are lost to the sea?

 

What will happen to the major food-growing areas of the planet?  Will there simply be a shift of productions areas to the temperate zones?  Does that not also by implication mean a similar shift of populations to grow the food, let alone consume it?

There may of course be short-term benefits in the Northern hemisphere: longer growing seasons, more areas suitable for cultivation.  But overall it seems there will be less land for agriculture and populations.

 

I have brought along two search pages from Spanish newspapers, taken yesterday.  The problems of the 'pateras' are much much bigger than we are ever led to believe in this country, obsessed as we are with over-competent Polish plumbers.  There are already tens of thousands of ecological refugees coming in from Africa to southern Europe.  What happens when this tide becomes a flood? And yes it is our problem, unless we tread the unthinkable inhuman path of 'fortress Europe' and turn these fellow human beings away. 

So part of a future which we must at least contemplate, is a Northern Hemisphere hosting thousands if not millions of refugees from large areas of the third world that in all likelihood our profligacy has made uninhabitable.  One of the possible implications of climate change is not developing the Third World, by sharing our wealth; we probably won't have any. It will be the opposite: sharing their poverty.

 

The scenarios we must also prepare for is that the microfauna and flora of our planet are also likely to exploit new and suitable environments.  This will mean new diseases – of plants and animals, and human beings, that we have never seen before.  When malaria hits Southern England for the first time: when we have our first termite colonies established; then we shall know how things are progressing.  Or regressing, as it will be for us.

All our concerns are with the effects of this on the human, animal and plant populations of our planet; mostly the human aspect.  We are told from geological evidence that the climate of our planet – over geological time – is anything but stable.  11,000 years ago where we are standing now was under probably a kilometre of ice.  4 million years ago hippopotami were swimming in what is now the Thames in a tropical climate, and Antarctica for much of the age of the dinosaurs was lush forest, since in the Jurassic period the mean temperature of the earth was around 250 C.  And that at some point in earth's history the whole globe was for several million years a frozen snowball.

So a warming (or cooling) of the climate is nothing new; certainly a warming of 2 to 5 degrees is a mere blip on a geological scale.  With huge changes of climate have come massive extinctions, on a far more devastating scale than we envisage with our present concerns.  So our worries about global warming – compounded of course by the guilt factor that it is quite possibly human actions that have caused this – are from one point of view rather selfish and even parochial:

 

Let's look now at the 'Parochial' aspects of global warming; how in the short and medium term it will possibly affect us here, in one of the more privileged zones of the planet. 

First we need above all to collect the biological, environmental, climatological, scientific data to allow us to predict and take measures to mitigate our man-made disaster. 

Second, we need, we should, we must, take all necessary measures to mitigate the effects of climate change and global warming.  Never before has there been such a groundswell of public and community support  for the measures we need to take.  Not just in the UK, but across the developed world, paradoxically above all in the US.  If there is anything that gives me hope, it is the tremendous public interest and drive to achieve energy savings in our communities, even dare I say a carbon-neutral village environment.  We are only just beginning now: with Ashton Heyes in Cheshire; Youlgreave and Winster in Derbyshire Dales: New Mills, Whaley Bridge and Hayfield in the High Peak; the Derwent Valley schemes that are beginning to roll out.

As communities, districts, counties, regions, we have to put incessant and growing pressure on our legislators to bring national policy down to workable schemes for our communities.  Research, development, investment, fiscal measures are needed now as never before.

Third, we need to record, possibly for posterity, what our part of the world looked like before my generation set in train the means to destroy it.  And of course where possible,as in the case of Moors for the Future, repair some of the industrial damage of the last two hundred years.

National Parks  are in a unique position to monitor the tiny changes in flora, fauna, habitats and environment to signal the direction and effects of climate change. 
Example: some of you will have seen the RSPB maps showing the distribution of moorland species, and the general retreat northwards of some species, with the encroachment to higher ground of lowland types.
BUT most of the landscape in the UK is managed: from the lowland farms, hill farms, woodlands, even the high moorlands.  So the primary effect on our countryside may not be the direct effect of climate change, but the secondary effect this has on the human population, and their effect in turn on the landscape.

Now matters become complicated, because the current pressures on our rural communities are not directly those related to climate change. 

 

But before this happens (this is where the English language sorely lacks a subjunctive mood), there may be changes in our local landscape that we need to manage.  I doubt that it will be either feasible or affordable to continue to maintain for example our moorland habitats with a significant rise in global temperatures.  So what is the point at which we begin the slow retreat to a changed environment?  I suspect that massive research is needed to determine our own, micro-climate 'tipping points'.

Finally, can technology help?  Well yes, massively and not new technology either.  If we simply applied some principles and techniques we have known about for decades, much could be achieved. In Germany and Scandinavia for example, domestic generation of electricity is encouraged by the simple expedient of paying four times the commercial tariff for every unit put back into the system, for the first five years.  Result: one hundred times more domestic generation in Scandinavia and Germany than in the UK.  The technology exists, is proven: I am not yet sure about the political will or fiscal courage.  This is just a simple example of what can be done.  It is not rocket science.

And on the horizon?  Well, over in Sheffield, in collaboration with Princeton and Lancaster, the some of the first quantum computers are being designed.  Within 10 years we should see incredibly accurate climate modeling that will help to shape our policies.  And what else?  I cannot say. What I do know is that 100 years ago we had just had the first recorded heavier-than air flight; Einstein's paper on Special Relativity was three years old: we still had an Empire, and Lancashire produced 95% of the world's finished cotton goods.  It sounds quaint now: but also you could get from many Derbyshire villages to almost anywhere else by rail. Not everything has been progress.

Will it all happen?  I don't know.  Can we stop it?  Perhaps.  Should we even try?  Of course.  We have a human planet to save.  Gaia will go on, with or without us.  I would prefer we were there to be a part of her.

My generation has squandered huge natural resources without thought for your generation.  Maybe it's time to make amends.

 

Mike Crompton
January 2008

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