Author Topic: Why I suggested a climate change forum  (Read 1633 times)

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Offline Simon

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Why I suggested a climate change forum
« on: May 03, 2006, 11:19:32 PM »
Some people call it climate change, some call it global warming, some call it the greenhouse effect.

Whatever you call it, there is a growing body of opinion that human activity since the industrial revolution is changing the makeup of our atmosphere, increasing the concentration of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane, so that more of the sun's heat is trapped in the atmosphere. Although a warmer climate might seem desirable when you're out on a wet windy day in Swindon, wishing you were sunning yourself on a Mediterranian beach, the consensus amongst most climate scientists is that climate change is a BAD THING.

With formerly fertile areas of the planet now turned to desert, further warming of the planet would cause more land to be lost to desert. Melting ice caps would leave low-lying coastal areas (including entire islands and a large chunk of the Netherlands) underneath the sea, and melt-water from the Hymalayas would further exaccerbate the flooding problem in Bangladesh. Changes in wildlife habitats due to a changed climate could lead to widespread extinction.

But climate change doesn't just mean that it'll get warmer everywhere. Remember the film, The Day After Tomorrow? The one where most of the northern hemisphere finds itself rapidly plunged into a new ice age and the intrepid climate scientist sets off on his show shoes to rescue his son from New York? Well, rather a lot of artistic licence went into that film, for one thing it probably wouldn't happen as quickly as that, however the underlying science seems to be sound.

As the north polar ice cap melts, the concentration of salt in the sea around it decreases. This in turn causes the Gulf Stream, the current bringing warm water from the equator up to northern Europe and the UK, to slow down. The Gulf Stream is what makes the UK warmer than parts of North America at the same latitude. If it were to stop entirely then it would get a lot colder here.

Our planet is unique amongst all the planets we know of (although there are probably many more planets we don't know about yet), in that it has a biosphere. The temperature range, atmospheric composition, water in solid liquid and vapour states, and innumerable other factors all contribute to a delicately balanced system which supports life. Starting with simple micro-organisms, then plants to absorb the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere until it was suitable for respiring animal life forms, which evolved into more complex and sophisticated animals, culminating apparently in the species known as Homo Sapiens.

A small imbalance in the system, such as a sudden abundance of one particular species, is corrected by a negative feedback mechanism such as a consequent increase in predators of that species, and so the system remains stable and life continues, sustaining itself on nothing more than the energy absorbed from the sun each day.

But somehow Homo Sapiens has broken out of the feedback mechanism and learned how to dig up and burn the fossilised remains of life forms which died millions of years ago, providing an energy source far greater than what we get directly from the sun. And we've become addicted to the lifestyle fuelled by all this cheap energy, even as we begin to realise that it's a finite energy source, and that by using it we are releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, along with other greenhouse gasses and pollutants.

The changes caused by our energy use and greenhouse gas emissions could be enough to push the biosphere system further than it can compensate for, until it falls out of the delicate balance which has been sustaining life for as long as we can remember. Readers would be well advised to read / listen to / watch what George Monbiot said on the subject of carbon dioxide, fossil fuel use and lifestyle at a climate change rally last December.

So what are we doing about this locally?

Well, Swindon Climate Action Network's current campaign focuses on the way people can reduce their eco-footprint by getting their food in season from local sources rather than from the other side of the planet. There's a local food directory (available to download as a PDF from the web site, and also as a nice trifold leaflet), and also a rather smart-looking display coming soon to a public event near you... If you want to get involved with SCAN, you can join the Yahoo group or contact SwindonCAN [at]

But what else are people doing to reduce their contribution to climate change?

What should people be doing?

What should local and/or national government, local employers or other bodies be doing?

We are all in this together, but some of us are more in it than others (with apologies to George Orwell)