Carbon footprint expert wants ‘thinking’ at the core of climate change solutions

12 May

One hundred years ago we couldn’t smash the planet if we tried, Mike Berners-Lee told his Swindon Spring Festival audience on Friday evening. Fifty years ago, we could if we tried. But today we can do it without trying.

In other words, if we don’t watch it, we will blunder into destroying our liveable planet.

And we’re stuck here.

Mike has calculated that the energy required to send one person to the nearest liveable planet, with all the accoutrements to survive in space and to set up a colony, would take the equivalent amount of all humankind’s energy for a year.

Fortunately, earth’s a pretty nice place to be stuck. But it won’t be by the end of the century if we don’t act now and act hard.

Mike Berners-Lee. Photo © Fernando Bagué
Mike Berners Lee Image © Fernando Bagué

Mike uses the kind of phrases we know will be adopted by activists and media types alike: we’ve treated the planet like a ‘big fantastic playground’ and it’s in a ‘radically new context’; it needs to be ‘Anthropocene-fit’.

Every new piece of information about climate change should give us a ‘flush of adrenaline’. Here’s a ’political climate change checklist’ so we aren’t duped by greenwash. Activism should give rise to ‘perspective-forcing’.

Although Mike’s been dubbed the ‘carbon-footprint expert’, with his latest book, There is No Planet B, he’s branched out into solutions to the stuff which makes people generally miserable and threaten our liveable world: in biodiversity, waste, food production, energy production, inequality, antibiotics, transport, growth and money, work, population, business and technology – “We need to look at solutions from every angle.”

As a regular Think Slam competitor (and as, well, a reasonable person) I was cheered to see ‘thinking’ at the core of his solutions. Sometimes, to my mind, clever people like scientists and mathematicians sometimes aren’t the best at thinking, experts in their own sphere but not so good at joining the dots, or about ethical or practical considerations.

And don’t get me (or Mike) started on politicians or the media and big business like fossil fuel companies. Their thinking seems to be spent on the politically expedient actions – the ‘optics’ – or what will sell more advertising or encourage more clicks.

But Mike is very good at doing the maths, and thinking about what it means, and doing more research or maths then more thinking about possible real-world solutions. And he’s great at explaining too.

So what are his solutions? First what are his values? That every human has equal value, that we respect and care for the world and its lifeforms, and we have a respect for the truth.

Obviously if you want all the solutions – and I hope you do – you will have to read the book, but I’ll pick one out, close to my heart: energy.

Creating energy is the public enemy number one for a liveable world: most of our energy comes from fossil fuels and when they are burned they emit greenhouse gases and hugely contribute to climate change.

So we need to stop burning fossil fuels but also bring down our consumption of energy, whatever the source:

  • With energy efficient homes
  • to be more frugal with our flying – there’s no clean way of doing this in the near future. Do we need to travel in cars so much? Electric bicycles are the most energy efficient way to travel.
  • Consider the energy behind the production of stuff.
  • Consider our diet, eat everything we buy, and avoid air freight.
  • In answer to an audience question – yes we do need to consider nuclear as part of the mix.

As a representative of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I asked Mike if he would support carbon fee and dividend and tell the government that he considers this to be the best form of carbon pricing. He agreed – we need to price carbon out of the market – make it so expensive that it’s a bad investment – but we need to give money back to people to make this tax palatable.

The government is currently consulting on the ‘future of carbon pricing’. Please do write to your MP and tell them that carbon fee and dividend is the best form of carbon pricing – better than fuel duty, better than VAT and better than the EU’s current Emissions Trading Scheme which only covers 20 percent of emissions.

It taxes fossil fuels at extraction/import and gives the money back to people so they can afford the price rises, while stimulating growth in clean energy and technology to create cheaper and more efficient energy alternatives.

And remember in the upcoming EU elections to vote for a politician and party who really care about climate change – using Mike’s checklist of course.

Mike Berners-Lee appeared with his book, There is No Planet B, at Swindon Arts Centre on 10th May 2019, as part of Swindon Spring Festival.

Words by Louisa Davison. Image © Fernando Bagué

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