I recently picked up my teenaged son’s school science revision guide, at the same time asking him if he needed any help. “I'm fine” he said and maybe I should have respected this but I was bored and felt a familiar urge to irritate him without motive because unfortunately that’s the kind of Dad I am (in return I have made an implied promise to leave him half a house when I die and to be fair both he and his brother seem relaxed about this arrangement). So anyway, I resolved to test him on the material in the guide with a view to ensuring that he gets enough qualifications to get him a job that will allow him to escape my tormenting at the earliest opportunity? The subject of the open page of the booklet was “The Environment” and since I didn’t feel inclined to wade through the whole document I decided to play the cards as they fell. “The Environment” it was.
Scanning some of the “facts” presented on the page I declared to Tom... “well that’s wrong; that bit is a little one sided; this bit is complete rubbish” and so on. “Am I helping?” I asked as I noticed him rolling his eyes towards the ceiling in the same way that he does when I comment on his sartorial elegance (or lack thereof). The section that stuck with me most and which prompted this text was the declaration in this guide that “there is only one way to stop global warming”. It declared simply that all that was required to halt global warming was that “we should stop burning fossil fuels”. Does any one else see anything wrong with this declaration in the education of our children?
At a parents evening in our allocated 5 minute slot, I asked how best I could help with my sons studies. The response from the teacher was, encouragement, use of the revision guides and to ensure the liberal use of key words that are used within the curriculum when doing past papers. So just to clarify I asked whether the examiners are interested in any independence of thought or if the they are absolutely only interested in students using key word answers regardless of whether the answers are right or wrong. The teacher knew exactly where I was going, sighed and said “yes just answer exactly as the curriculum requires”. “OK”. That’s fine for passing a test but in terms of the “bigger picture” since my son’s generation are the ones who will suffer most from the effects of global warming then surely it makes sense to teach them the truth about it as opposed to presenting them with a simplistic list of cause and effect situations.
What am I getting at, you might ask. Its probably an age old problem which takes a different hue with each generation. The problem as I see it is the closing of the mind with idealogical and/or political doctrine at the very earliest age. In this instance it has become accepted by most that the only way to stop global warming is to stop burning fossil fuels, because this is what is being drummed into us at all levels. At school they are taught it as the only solution. In fact fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions are regarded as being interchangeable as though they were in fact the same thing. They are not. Further at school and in wider society it is being drummed into us that all renewable energy systems are good and everything else is bad. This is far from true and is a much more nuanced debate.
I am not a global warming denier, nor do I deny the influence of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses like methane. The evidence is clear, these emissions are warming the planet. The problem I have is that because only one solution is doctrine all other solutions to the problem are heresy. Here are the most important simple truths as I see them:-
There is already far too much CO2 in the atmosphere - It will take generations to naturally reabsorb it to pre 1950's levels even if we totally stop burning fossil fuels today.
We are not going to stop using the most economic sources of energy so we will keep burning fossil fuel all over the world - Projections of population growth their access to renewable and nuclear energy and the remaining availability of fossil fuels indicate that fossil fuel use will actually increase until 2050, then slowly decline as resources are depleted.
Unilateral moves from fossil fuels are useful but not a solution - CO2 does not need a passport, Chinese, US or Indian CO2 is just as happy bobbing around over Blighty as it is where it was emitted.
Even the most optimistic projections on fossil fuel use (you notice I do not say CO2 emissions) is that it will continue grow until 2050, and that it will begin to slowly decline over the 50 years beyond this as it becomes too expensive to mine. If you believe the only way to stop runaway climate change is to stop burning fossil fuels than you have already lost, pack your bags and get on the next rocket out of here, pity there is nowhere to go.
If you reconcile yourself to the fact that fossil fuels are going to be used around the world for a least another 100 years and you do not want runaway climate change then you have to find a way to remove the CO2 or alleviate the symptoms of the CO2. Amongst many Environmental groups this view is heresy. It is stop burning or else! 7 or 8 billion people in the world regardless of this view will still need to keep warm, cook their food and get about to earn a living.
Finally as a local UK initiative and perhaps a bit too radical for UK government, legislate (with grants) to compel homeowners and landlords to insulate their lofts and walls (mind you, they would not be able to get in mine for all the junk, must deal with that one day). Energy wise this makes much more sense than sticking a solar panel on the roof of a house in a rain blessed territory like the UK.