This week sees the start of an environment season
on Channel 4, which is welcome news, since we should all take our
world more seriously. The summer heat wave of 2003 killed 27,000
people in Europe. During the last 15 years, a quarter of a million
people have died in floods, which have become increasingly common as
human beings change the climate.
Are we really changing the climate? Yes, the
scientific evidence is now overwhelming. For me the simplest statistic
is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When I was at
school it was 30 parts per million; now it’s 37. That is a 20 per cent
increase, and almost certainly due directly to our consumption of
coal, oil, and gas.
The Americans use more fossil fuels than anyone
else on Earth, but President Bush has declared that carbon dioxide is
not a problem. This is truly amazing; does he really believe that by
saying it isn’t a problem it will go away? It’s almost like King Knut,
whose courtiers were so sycophantic they said he could command the
tide not to come in, but when they put him in his throne on the beach
he got wet feet.
No one knows for sure what will happen if we go
on producing carbon dioxide at an ever-increasing rate, but we are
already seeing a variety of extreme weather events – floods, severe
storms, hurricanes - and a strong possibility is that the gulf stream
will be switched off. If that happened we should lose its warming
effect, and Britain would quickly become as cold as Finland.
Then there is the problem of water. Already there
is not enough water for the 6 billion people on the planet, the
population is growing, and people are generally using more water from
year to year. Water tables are falling around the world, and this is
having dire and consequences that in some cases were hard to foresee –
harvests have fallen sharply in China, and hundreds of people have
been poisoned in eastern India and Bangladesh, when the falling level
of water somehow allowed arsenic into the system.
What can we do to reverse some of these trends?
First we should put pressure on governments to take action, for there
has to be political will, and meanwhile we should use less water –
even by flushing the loo less often - and save fossil fuels by getting
out of our SUVs and on to our bicycles.