We live in interesting times. 2016 was the hottest year on record – just – making it three in a row. 2017 will be cooler, but not much. It won’t stop the Daily Denial trumpeting that the world is obviously cooling down again, and it probably won’t stop Americans maintaining that the climate is changing, but it’s nothing to do with humans. or they’re not sure, and the jury is still out.
Our hope is that Donald Trump is brighter, humbler and wiser than we’ve been led to believe so far. His nominee for energy secretary, Rick Perry, has pulled back from his calls in 2012 to abolish the U.S. Department of Energy, and says he will base decisions on “sound science”, so that’s a start. We’ll probably hear no more about the Chinese Global Warming Conspiracy; it was after all just a piece of xenophobic marketing aimed at a certain sector of the American population that hated foreigners and wanted to be reassured that they could still mine coal. But there is a world of difference between not opposing measures needed to combat the slow disaster ahead, and actively supporting them, which is what must happen if we are to have any chance at all of leaving a world fit for our descendants to inhabit.
Our hope is also that the ghost of Margaret Thatcher will prowl the corridors of power in the UK. As a scientist herself, she identified the dangers of global warming in the 1980s and would have had little truck with the current government’s spineless, sporadic attention to the issue. She would have waded into her colleagues who wasted £168million on two abandoned Carbon Capture and Storage projects. She would have had little time for people whose sole objection to land-based wind power was that it spoilt their view but who came up with dozens of other whacky reasons – noise, bird strikes, epilepsy from the sun flashing on the blades, hypnotic effect on motorists etc etc. She would have vetoed short-sighted planning policies that encouraged housing development on flood plains. True Conservatives are dedicated to leaving the world in a better state for their descendants to enjoy.
We are encouraged by the Scottish government’s announcement that it intends to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 66% from 1990 levels over the next 15 years. This entails a “fully decarbonised” electricity generating sector, 80% of heating coming from low carbon technologies and transport emissions down by a third on 2014 levels.
We’re also encouraged – and discouraged -that IKEA have said that they will not be investing any of their £500million Green Fund in Britain until the government makes it easier to invest in the UK. IKEA has invested €1.5billion over the last two decades in renewable energy, and has €600million to spend by 2020. but none of it will be coming to Britain as things stand. As Joanna Yarrow, IKEA’s head of sustainability told the Huffington Post, “The UK has a fantastic wind profile; it is one of the best places in the world to generate energy via wind, but the context that we’re operating in, the political context, doesn’t encourage that investment. So we’re having to take it elsewhere…over the last five or six years it has become increasingly difficult to invest in renewable energy production in the UK, and for a large organisation like Ikea which has the resources to invest, it would be great for the UK to benefit from it”. We’d like to think the government will think hard about what €600million would mean for jobs even if they can’t work up enthusiasm for the planet.
But with Brexit moving from the waffle stage to reality, Trump taking over in America and who knows what happening in Holland and France in the coming months, all we can say for certain is that we shall live in interesting times. Don’t despair – yet.