Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Why green heretics are essential

You may recall a little while ago I rather revelled in being labelled a 'green heretic'. I've just come across a report that emphasises why it is so important to indulge in a little green heresy (hopefully dodging the green inquisition) and think beyond the knee-jerk reaction as I suggest we should in Ecologic.

According to this piece in the The Register (usually more a source of great IT information), climate change isn't high on ordinary people's priorities. Well, that's not surprising at the moment with worldwide recession and financial difficulties. When you are trying to keep your business afloat, or to keep your house from being repossessed and your children fed, it is difficult to pay too much attention to the finer points of improving the environment - important though they remain. But the interesting thing about the data discussed in that article is that people gave climate change a similarly low importance when times were good. It's not just politicians that have a short term view - so do the rest of us, apart from a vocal few.

This isn't, by the way, a matter of climate change denial - it is rather accepting that things are the way they are, but not being prepared to do anything much about it. There's a strong parallel with the overweight/obesity situation in the Western world. Most of us know perfectly well that eating too much fat and sugar is going to make us overweight. We don't deny it. But we can't resist the siren call of fish and chips or pizza, or hamburgers and a coke, or whatever our high fat, high sugar diet of choice is. Because each incremental meal doesn't really make much difference. The impact is from long term use, but the experience is short term, one meal at a time.

Those who call people like me green heretics argue that we put too much stock on engineering ourselves out of trouble. They say that we have too much faith in science and technology to counter our mistreatment of the environment. But this survey says to me that such people have got things back to front. Because short of draconian restrictions from government, something that isn't going to happen in a democracy if said government wants to be re-elected, we are not going to change our ways. Why would we, if we don't consider it a priority? We consume our energy in small chunks, just like those hamburgers. So the faith in science and technology solutions aren't based an overweening belief in the power of science, they are instead our only hope.

I'm not saying give up your recycling, or everyone should go out and buy a Hummer. Of course we can and should still do as much as we can as individuals to counter climate change. But it clearly isn't going to be anywhere enough. We aren't going to radically change the way we live our lives because it will help with climate change in the future. It is just not going to happen. And so we have to find science and engineering solutions to counter the way we live. And the sooner we put more effort into that, the better.


  1. "And so we have to find science and engineering solutions to counter the way we live. And the sooner we put more effort into that, the better."

    Exactly, we need to find a better source of energy than fossil fuels. Once that energy is found, the world will switch and fossil fuel use will become a thing of the past. Like a campfire, we burn wood at the camp but we don't burn wood in our cars, wood is a fuel of the past. Fossil fuels will eventually be the same way. Only science and engineering solutions will we find the better fuel.


  2. That's so true. There are only two better sources of energy - the sun and nuclear. (Ok there's wind/tide, but they will always be relatively small.) One essential is that we put more money into nuclear fusion research, so we can get nuclear power without high level waste.