by Neil Kitching
Why write a blog on ‘Climate Optimism’? Simply, because the solutions to climate change have multiple benefits for people, society and the environment.
Action on housing, city and rural land-use, travel, shopping and our diets will all improve the quality of our lives in so many ways.
Powering Our Homes
Do you want your electricity to be supplied by coal or even by gas? Coal mining is locally destructive whilst burning coal causes regional air pollution and global warming. It is also a dangerous occupation for the workforce and is a dirty material to transport. Whilst gas emits less carbon dioxide, methane can leak at all stages causing further warming.
Conversely, most renewable sources of electricity are far cleaner, eliminate air pollution and are generated locally. Jobs are created and you can cut your dependence on foreign imports – Europe has an unhealthy financial and security dependency on importing gas from Russia and the Middle East. Prices are more stable because you are no longer dependent on the fluctuating global price of fossil fuels.
In the UK we use so called ‘natural’ gas to heat most of our homes. We bring a dangerously flammable material into our houses that also heats our planet. Traditionally it was cheap, so we don’t even bother to insulate our homes. We can, and should, build homes with high levels of insulation. If we need some heating, this can be provided from heat pumps that run off electricity. No need to pay for an annual safety check. A cleaner fuel, local jobs and more comfortable warm homes.
Have you ever cycled in a dangerously busy city centre street, been overtaken by fast driving cars passing too close to you, then being stuck at a red light behind an old bus belching diesel fumes into your face? Not a nice place to be.
Electric cars and buses are not perfect (batteries and weight), but they are quieter, emit no air pollution and are carbon free at the point of use.
Now imagine a future where the traffic volume is reduced and calmed. Where there is a segregated cycle lane and all the buses and lorries have been converted to electric or hydrogen. The air is clean and safe to breathe making it safer for families. This future could be coming soon – if we choose it.
We need to revitalise our cities to make them cleaner, greener and more attractive places to live. We should stop building on greenfield sites and restructure our suburbs so that we live within a 15-minute walk or cycle to schools, shops, leisure centres and workplaces. We need to refurbish existing apartments and ensure there are parks and gardens everywhere.
That way we can walk or cycle more, live in densities that are suitable for public transport and reduce our dependency on private cars. Walking is healthy, more sociable and will reduce road congestion and air pollution.
This would free up land required for car parking spaces for more productive uses – homes, cycle lanes, parks and green spaces. Children could play outdoors with their neighbours on traffic calmed streets.
The expansion of intensive agriculture and extensive grazing has devastated our natural lands. Biodiversity has retreated into small pockets of protected land. Our soils are being degraded and rainfall washes straight off the soils along drainage ditches to cause flooding downstream. Pesticides have decimated all insects, not just the ‘pests’.
We need to restore some of this lost natural wilderness to benefit nature and ourselves. Planting new trees, restoring soils, and protecting peat and wetlands will store carbon, reduce soil erosion and flooding and benefit wildlife. Rewilding our countryside will bring more jobs – in tourism, outdoor hobbies, forestry, craft industries and specialist food and drink services. Attractive countryside is good for our mental health, encourages us to take exercise and supports pollinators which are required for our crops and fruit.
We also need to rewild our seas which have been devastated by overfishing, pollution and fishing boats dragging their nets along the seafloor. Nature will respond quickly if we regulate fishing, and replant seagrass and mangroves. The seas will store more carbon, storm damage will be reduced, and young fish will thrive in the new habitats.
My proposal is for government to mandate compulsory product guarantees, say 10 years, on consumer products like washing machines, fridges and even umbrellas. No more planned obsolescence. Overnight this would force manufacturers to design their products to a high quality standard. Retailers would offer repair and refurbishment services – creating jobs and a long-term relationship with the customer. Although we might pay a bit more up front we would all benefit from buying quality, long lasting products. And the Earth would benefit too, from less need to extract more raw materials.
Our diets are unhealthy; full of salt, sugar and fats. Much of our food is produced on the other side of the world, perhaps on land that was recently tropical forest now cleared for agriculture and dowsed in pesticides, fungicides and insecticides. The soil is exhausted, but kept ‘productive’ through the application of artificial fertilisers which emit nitrous oxide. Meanwhile we have a high dependency on meat and dairy products resulting in the excessive use of antibiotics, methane being belched out and ammonia causing air and water pollution.
Fortunately there is a strong correlation between a healthy diet and a low carbon diet. We can choose to eat local food, change our diets to a predominately vegan or vegetarian diet, and reduce our intake of chemical residues by eating organic. ‘Regenerative’ farming is the future – no ploughing, growing winter cover crops and the use of crop and animal diversity and rotation. Remarkably, this will increase the carbon content within the soil which reduces the need for fertilisers and retains water preventing flooding and soil degradation.
Amidst all the bad news, there are grounds for hope and optimism – Carbon Choices is an easy to read but comprehensive popular science book that concludes with a green action plan for government, business and individuals to make better Carbon Choices.
Neil Kitching is a geographer and energy specialist from Scotland. He has published Carbon Choices on the common-sense solutions to our climate and nature crises. Neil works for a public sector agency promoting the opportunities for business to benefit from low carbon heating and water technologies. Neil had a mid-life career change from accountant to working in sustainable development then energy. He is now focusing on climate and nature blogs, mostly with an optimistic theme to them.