Climate Crisis – the challenge is to confront reality

As COP26 – December’s international convention in Glasgow – becomes a major media focus, the scrutiny of environmental plans and policies will be intensified.

Parties across the political spectra are now preparing proposals that will sound good but not offend their core supporters.  They’ve had plenty of practice.  References to fine words buttering no parsnips date back to at least 1634.

To identify the underlying causes of ecological distress one must first strip away mis-characterisations (it’s just a natural cycle) and finger pointing or ‘othering’ (it’s all their fault) and vested interests that stand in the way of progress.  It’s time then to critically review where leaders think they are leading.

Under Ed Davey the Libdems don’t just have a plan – we have a Green Recovery Plan but is that enough to get to the heart of the issues?  Given the scale of the challenge, are the plan’s elements sufficient?  Will many millions of small initiatives be practical and effective, or are major policy reforms required?

  • Save British Countryside
  • Green Every Home
  • Clean Air for Kids
  • Transport revolution
  • Energy Switch

Looking at the details behind these headlines there is much to applaud – and nothing to cause offence.  But will these elements be enough to arrest the current levels of our planet abuse?

Should we not also consider:

  • stepping away from economic growth targets?
  • Ending planned obsolescence
  • Cutting advertising?
  • Shifting from ownership to usership
  • Scaling down destructive industries?
  • Reducing the working week?
  • Reducing Inequality?
  • Restoring health and caring services?
  • Expanding the commons and demonetarise public services?
  • Envisaging Debt Cancellation?
  • Introducing Universal basic Income?
  • Strengthening Democracy?
  • Rebalancing central/local governance with a restoration of municipal autonomy?

The proponents of a complete rethinking of the economic systems that have gotten us into this mess could probably generate an even longer – even scarier – list.

How many floods?  How many fires?  How much coastal erosion?  How much pollution?  How many more virus variants?  When will enough be enough? And when will we get to the real reasons for systemic inequalities and unexpected consequences of addiction to ecological destruction.

Back in the 1600’s we made food more palatable by ‘buttering it up’.

‘Great men, large hopeful promises may utter;
But words did never fish or parsnips butter.’



* David Brunnen is media liaison officer for Fareham Liberal Democrats. He writes on Municipal Autonomy, Intelligent Communities, Sustainability & Digital Challenges.

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  • Nigel Hunter 29th Jul '21 - 5:59pm

    You can add the obsession with bit coin production.The amount of energy that is used in their production WHEN YOU CANNOT EVEN SPEND THEM IN THE SHOPS. They are a farce!

  • Brad Barrows 29th Jul '21 - 6:19pm

    Economic growth is necessary if there is population growth or average wealth created per person falls. Would the Liberal Democrats consider policies to limit the number of children born or the number of refugees and others moving to the UK? Perhaps the Liberal Democrats would be happy campaigning in an election on a policy of making people, on average, poorer? If neither of the above, forget any talk of not having economic growth targets.

  • The Bank of England has a 2 minute video on economic growth and climate change
    Bottom line within 20 years we will have exhausted the capacity of the planet to absorb carbon emissions. Consequently, the choices are between green growth or de-growth. Continuing as we are is not an option for sustaining life on earth.

  • Yeovil Yokel 29th Jul '21 - 8:48pm

    To me, there is a glaring omission from these two lists: the way we manage farmland and produce food. Organic farming is probably the most sustainable form of mainstream agricultural practice, with numerous and deep benefits for soil health, nature conservation, human health, and farm animal welfare. Post-Brexit and without price subsidy UK farmers will struggle to sell conventionally-produced foodstuffs on world markets; but a policy of actively promoting and subsidising organic production could enable more UK farmers to exploit certain advantages in climate and soil types to satisfy more of the home and export markets with foodstuffs that we find easier to produce, e.g. organic meat, cereals and fruit (I produce the latter). Such a policy also has the advantage of being distinctive – I don’t think even the Greens have a policy of actively promoting organic farming.

  • Jenny barnes 30th Jul '21 - 7:36am

    Eliminate all subsidies on fossil fuel. Increase tax on road fuel and gas. Create a proper electric car charging infrastructure. Build nuclear power. Buildings to passivhaus standards. Reduce meat consumption. Electrify the railways. Carbon tax. Steel made with hydrogen. Tax aviation fuel. Ban domestic and european flight where the journey can be made by train in under 3 hours.

  • If anyone has residual concerns about the need (or possibility) of continuous economic growth, I very strongly recommend Donought Economics by Kate Rawarth. There’s loads in there to explain the problems with many traditional economic assumptions, as well as practical examples on how we can change our economy to maintain quality of life and the quality of our environment.

    I agree Yeovil Yokel that a massive chunk of what we can and should do is related to our food supply. Reducing the impact from over-use of chemical fertilisers and dubious pesticides is essential, and there’s a lot to be said for more regenerative agriculture. I know it’s not without controversies, and we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of over-estimating or misrepresenting its value, as some parts of the meat industry seem to be doing. We need to be clear that, collectively, we need to reduce our meat consumption to meet our climate change targets, but that smaller amounts of higher quality, better welfare meat reared in more natural environments.

    One of the challenges is the competition of land, as land used for rearing animals is no longer available to be used for forestation etc. That said, we do need to be careful not to see land only in terms of how many greenhouse cases are sequestered or released. Regenerating or maintaining healthy soils is an important goal in its own right, not just a carbon sink. They are important for biodiversity, ensuring long-term food security and have a role to play in the water cycle and can influence our weather systems, so how we treat our soils is relevant to our mitigation of extreme weather too.

  • Yeovil Yokel 29th Jul ’21 – 8:48pm– I don’t think even the Greens have a policy of actively promoting organic farming.

    In 2001 their ‘Green Farming in a Green Land’? was a policy and their latest manifesto atates “Replace current grants with Land Management Contracts, which will support farmers to deliver a range of public benefits including organic farmland conversion, agroforestry, agroecology, soil conservation and peatland restoration, flood management, wetland creation, landscape restoration and public access, renewable energy, rewilding and species reintroductions”

  • Yeovil Yokel 30th Jul '21 - 1:13pm

    Fair enough, expats, I’m too busy farming organically to do the necessary research!
    I stand by my two main points: that an expansion of organic farming (everywhere in general and in the UK in particular) is both highly desirable and necessary for so many reasons; and that it could well be politically beneficial for the Lib Dems to have their own distinct policy on the issue. My worry is that policy to address climate change is formulated by party geeks in London focused on abstract concepts, not people on the ground actually doing the work. There are plenty of people more knowledgeable and articulate than me out there who could provide input, e.g. Liz Webster, a farmer from Wiltshire and former LD PPC; or the politically neutral Helen Browning, also a farmer and CEO of the Soil Association (which is responsible for organic farmer and grower certification).

  • Yeovil Yokil, are you involved with the Green Liberal Democrats at all?

    I have a memory of there being plans to create a special interest group on soils, but looking at the website that now seems to be one titled “Food from farm to table” which sounds as if it might cover the stuff you are interested in. I’m sure you’d be a valuable addition to that if you can find the time.

    There are groups on some of the other issues raised. What’s not clear to me is how the GLDs fit into HQ’s plans. As far as I can tell, GLD is run by members in their spare time and I wonder if they could achieve more for the party if HQ allocated some resources to help with some of the admin.

  • Yeovil Yokel 31st Jul '21 - 8:01am

    Short answer is ‘no’, Fiona, but thank you for your comments and your suggestion – I’ll try and look into the Green Lib Dems.

  • It is so reassuring to read the common sense approach of Yeovil Yokel. Thank goodness for people who understand what they are talking about and this is typical of a great many farmers who care for nature, the land, their livestock and their produce. Doing what is best for all of these is key to healthy and sustainable farming.

    Sadly, there are also a great many people who pontificate about the imaginery climate crisis when it is obvious that they haven’t got a clue what they are talking about.

    But it is more complex than that. Jenny barnes is perfectly correct but only if the climate science is correct and credible. If it is not, then Jenny’s agenda is retrograde, punishing and hugely expensive. Fiona, in my view, also makes very sensible suggestions until she gives in to the demands of the climate taliban.

    The climate crisis is a figment of the imagined threat posed by failed climate models. I use the word “failed” not in a judgemental manner, but in a technical sense. Models fail if the system they are trying to simulate cannot be accurately replicated. Climate models run hot by a factor of at least three.

  • Jenny barnes 1st Aug '21 - 7:26am

    I did mention some taxes. However, the income from these could be used to start funding ubi. A shift in resources, not necessarily costly.
    And: 100 year droughts, wildfires, unprecedented floods? Broken temperature records?
    Something is happening to the climate. If it’s not caused by GHGs, what’s your theory?

  • Not having children will do much more to save the planet than not eating meat or driving a car, so all tax and benefit incentives for having kids (in a year’s time) would be removed (existing help would remain for kids already born or in the womb) and extra taxes for those earning over 40k when they have new kids to reflect the terrible damage they will be doing to the environment.

  • @Jenny – The claim that global warming will lead to extreme weather is due entirely to indications from the failed climate models. Now the internet and mainstream media are packed full of alarmist rhetoric attributing every daily weather event to climate change, completely ignoring the fact that climate is defined by the trend over a minimum of thirty years.
    It is therefore necessary to study the official long term data. For example, in the US, both numbers of fires and acres burned show a slight downward trend.
    Droughts show no trend over the last 60 years. This agrees with IPCC AR5 WG1.
    Floods do not show a dominant trend.
    Why so many temperature records? You may have heard of the Little Ice Age (LIA) when temperatures were depressed by 1.5-2.0 degrees for about 500 years. We started the long, slow warming process around 1850-1870. This period coincides with the creation of the temperature record known today as HadCrut. Consider what this means.
    As we warm up to recover that 1.5-2.0 degrees, almost every year sets a new temperature record in the HadCrut dataset. Now, why does the Met office and BBC make such a fuss every year? Why do they mislead the public by pretending it is entirely due to climate change. We have no way of deciding the extent of natural warming compared with anthropogenic warming.
    Finally, the new series of models, CMIP6, try to simulate clouds and the projections now run even hotter! This is a major dilemma. Do they keep quiet and endure ridicule for massive warming predictions or do they admit that the models are failed and have been for forty years?

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Aug '21 - 12:30pm

    I’m aware that there appear to be natural climate cycles. Different types of climate cycle operate over different timescales e.g. the various impacts of changes in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun operate (very roughly), over timescales of around 20,000 to 120,000 years, while the North Atlantic Oscillation has a (varying) timescale of decades. Because of the widely differing timescales the impact on climate over a very long period of time varies, combining the impacts of these factors might lead to increases in global or regional temperature over times – or they might cancel each other out.

    Are you implying that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are not a possible factor, also interacting with natural climate cycles?

  • Peter 1st Aug ’21 – 11:31am Always pleased to read how you are far more knowledgable than the 97% of climate scientists who seem to agree that the increasing rate of warming is largely due to human activity..

    As for your ‘revelation’ about the LIA they seem to have taken that into account ( a decrease in solar activity coupled with an increase in volcanic activity is thought to have helped trigger the Little Ice Age between approximately 1650 and 1850, when Greenland cooled from 1410 to the 1720s and glaciers advanced in the Alps). However, they also note that since 1950 the 11 year solar irradiance has fallen and the temperature is still rising at an ever increasing rate

    I’m sure you have an explanation to contradict their findings that “The industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 416 parts per million in the last 150 years. The panel also concluded there’s a better than 95 percent probability that human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have caused much of the observed increase in Earth’s temperatures over the past 50 years.”

    Still. what do they know?

  • Barry Lofty 1st Aug '21 - 1:02pm

    Trying hard not to be controversial, but it makes a change to hear another side to the global warming argument from Peter.

  • @expats – Thanks for confirming the importance of the LIA. Normally, climate scientists insist that changes in solar radiation are far too tiny to make any difference to our climate. If they are back tracking on that then I’m very pleased. The solar cycles produce other changes too, such as high energy particle ejections, microwave flux and the magnetic field which reverses each full cycle.

    Of course I agree that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming but it is more complex than that. There is much debate about feedbacks (amplification or reduction of the warming). Each addition of more gas has a reduced warming effect because the relationship is logarithmic. The other GH gases you mentioned share absorption wavebands with water vapour which greatly diminishes their impact. The absorption bands are now fully saturated according to spectroscopic measurements on identical atmospheres. The results are all available in the HITRAN database.

    I agree that CO2 now stands at 415 ppm. I’m very relieved about that. If it fell below 150 ppm life on this planet would cease. In our past it has been as high as 9,000 ppm. Every one of us exhales at least 40,000 ppm but of course it rapidly disperses. It is excellent plant food. Its warming effects are greatly exaggerated, not least by failed models.

  • Jenny Barnes 1st Aug '21 - 5:39pm

    Many fields have had their assumptions overturned by new thinking. The accepted theory used to be that disease was caused by “bad air” while we now think viruses and bacteria. There’s some truth in the bad air theory ofc – think of the Covid advice for much ventilation. However, mostly, the scientific consensus is the way to bet; most maverick thinkers are not geniuses, but just mistaken.

  • @ Nonconformistradical – What you say is right, but clouds are important too. Cloud formation is the biggest natural influence. They say that a 1% change could wipe out the entire anthropogenic contributionof CO2. There is a link between the solar cycles and cloud formation. Yes, the greenhouse effect is overlaid on top of all of that but is not as powerful as the models indicate.

    @ Jenny
    The consensus is nowhere near 97%, that is propaganda by a young scientist in Australia. The sceptics are numerous and increasing and include some excellent scientists. People tend to become sceptics once they actually look carefully at the science. Before that, they just accept it on trust without question. I did so myself at one time. I heard some ridiculous claims by a climate science and wondered how he got away with spouting lies on national news. I decided to understand what it was all about. That was twelve years ago and I am still surprised with the false claims that are made.

    William Happer is a very distinguished physicist and probably knows more about CO2 than anyone else alive. There are a number videos of him talking about climate change and why we shouln’t be worried about it. The videos are quite pleasant to watch and I recommend them.

  • @Peter, if you think that problem climate change is a figment of the imagination, you are in the wrong party. IMO, climate change denial should be treated like Holocaust denial. Refusing to take the climate emergency seriously is being OK with condemning millions, possibly billions, to devastation.

    Climate change models have not ‘failed’. That they cannot predict every tiny detail does not mean they can be ignored, and that many existing predictions have been shown to be too conservative should be a wake-up call, not an excuse to do nothing. There was an irresponsible headline in on the BBC website recently which gave the impression the models had ‘failed’, when it was actually that society had failed to listen to the scientists.

    Just because climate has changed due to non anthropogenic reasons over the history of our planet does not mean that we can claim current climate change is natural, or OK. It’s not just that we are contributing to climate change, the climate is changing too rapidly for the natural world to be able to adjust without causing harm to the earth’s inhabitants, which includes us.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Aug '21 - 8:23am

    It’s probably not worth arguing with Climate Change deniers. They usually cherry pick the scientific views which suit them and discard the rest. We can often find mavericks, like William Happer, who present a view contrarian view. We shouldn’t necessarily discount them, sometimes they can be right, but often they aren’t.

    For example, Oxford Professor Sunetra Gupta, was hailed by many Covid sceptics for her scientific expertise. Maybe she knew more about Covid “than anyone else alive”? She was claiming the British government had completely overreacted to the Covid crisis which was “on its way out” as long ago as May 2020. They listened to the one scientist who was saying what they wanted to hear rather than the ninety nine who were not.

    We could probably find one aero engineer who was of the opinion that the Boeing 737-Max was perfectly safe to fly without any additional modifications. But, we’d find at least ninety nine who disagreed. So who do we listen to?

  • John Shoesmith 2nd Aug '21 - 9:40am

    It is unlikely to matter much what our policies are on climate change. That’s because we are unlikely to form the next government.

    Given that many people accept that there is a climate emergency and are deeply concerned, don’t we have a duty to offer the British people at the next General Election some sort of alliance that can do something about it?

  • @Peter, you are right. And when it comes to something with the potential to cause so much devastation, the risks from under-reacting are many times more dangerous than the risks from over-reacting. I’m not sure what our party’s policy is on climate change denial, but if we don’t have one, we probably should.

    We’d never allow someone to defend policies or behaviour that are racist, so why should we be OK with people who defend policies or cavalier behaviour that needlessly contribute to climate change or poor air quality? I realise it’s a more complicated subject, and as individuals it’s virtually impossible not to contribute to climate change, but it’s no good us saying we care about the environment if we think that reducing single-use plastic cancels out a mini-break to New York.

  • As an aside those actions ‘demanded’ to slow/reverse man’s input to global climate change are the very same ones that will reduce overall pollution of land, sea and air, aid ‘sustainable/ethical farming’, increase bio-diversity and conservaion of animal/plant life, etc., etc…Making this, our only planet, a better place to live..
    As with most such actions the ‘selfish/greedy’ few are far more interested in short term gain than the long game that will beneifit mankind as a whole..If the current drive on climate can drag them ‘kicking and screaming’ to the table then let’s use every means at our disposal to keep them there..

  • True expats. Protecting biodiversity, or rewilding where it’s been lost is an important contribution towards stabilising climate at local, regional and global levels, as well as important in its own right.

    In some cases, options for rapid drawdown/absorption of carbon such as planting certain types of tree, may not be the best for biodiversity, and invariably they won’t be the best option for carbon storage long-term. Planting to allow a more natural and diverse woodland is preferable, even if it might take more work to get it going and take longer to mature.

  • @ Fiona – I would like to clarify what I said in my comment on 31 July at 8:11 pm., final paragraph.

    “The climate crisis is a figment of the imagined threat posed by failed climate models. ”
    The rest of that paragraph further explains that the models run hotter than reality by a factor of three. I was referring to the alleged CRISIS, not climate change in general. Even the IPCC claims there is no crisis or emergency. The fact is that the models are wrong as is made clear by their own results shown in the link I provided on the following day at 2:13 pm.

    I have state several times that anthropogenic emissions are causing warming. It is the model prediction of the extent of the warming that is wrong.

    You indicate that you think I should be banned from this site or imprisoned or punished in some way for stating the truth?

  • David Brunnen 5th Aug '21 - 2:20pm

    While it is gratifying that my brief article has provoked 27 comments (from 13 readers) it is clear that opinion across this small subset is divided. It is inevitable that any suggestion that mildly threatens the post-70’s economic consensus might ruffle a few feathers. I wrote of the need to ‘face reality’ after re-reading Jason Hickel’s recent work ‘Less Is More’ and I would thoroughly recommend that others would now take time out of debating climate change and consider the ecological damage of our recent and current economic addictions. ISBN:978-1-785-15249-8

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