My solutions to climate change
Climate change is a hot topic now, in fact literally. With invasive rising sea levels, droughts, extreme weather and increasing numbers of natural disasters people are starting to feel on edge.
The biggest culprit leading to the accelerating baking of our earth is the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. An article in the world economic forum states that there are 300 gigatons of additional carbon in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution and furthermore according to a report by Forbes in 2018 climate change-related disasters cost 85billion dollars in damages globally. Simply by reducing our production of this gas and other greenhouse gases as well as counteracting it’s production with trees theoretically we hopefully can reduce the greenhouse effect. The way I see it there are 4 main areas desperate for solutions to reduce emissions. These being: transport, energy supply, residual/business and agriculture.
To put the mass of CO2 we produce into perspective estimated by carbon independent we would need a forest 9 x the size of the UK to balance the 900 million tons of CO2 produced per year by the UK. That’s a lot of trees. It’s clear the world needs to have a new revolution, one of environmental conscientiousness to reduce the negative damaging effect we are having on the environment. So, in this blog, I’ve highlighted the main areas contributing to the greenhouse effect and some solutions the country could work towards.
According to a BBC, report transport topped the list accounting for 26% of emitted CO2 in the UK. A large proportion of this from normal road transport opposed to ships and planes. A solution to this could be to increase car ownership tax on non-carbon neutral vehicles and invest more money in into public transport as one full bus removes 40 cars from the road. Looking beyond this even better than that any new public transport needs to be carbon neutral like electric buses which exist but only really in china. Another immediate solution to reducing emissions I propose that public transport needs to be free, to therefore increase its users, reduce the number of car users, reducing overall exhaust emissions. I read an article discussing this on tribunemag.co.uk by Wojciech Kebowski which very much convinced me that we should adopt a free transport system in cities here in the UK. To summarize the points raised in the article firstly currently around 100 cities across the world have this system in place and have seen improvements for example in the city of Tallinn; despite receiving criticism that it would be financially unstable for public transport networks, the city saw an increase of residence by about 25,000 people which meant an increase in taxpayers, which meant they generated €40 million of additional revenue per year! You may think the city lost money from fares and they, in fact, didn’t lose a penny and instead gained €16.3 million per year. Seems unlikely but in fact, actually, only one-third of the budget of the public transport network in Tallinn was covered by the revenue from ticket fares and the rest was provided by direct municipal subsidy. Also, free fares are only offered to registered residents of the city which I think is how the system should be adopted in the UK. Not only did it save money but also carbon emissions. For example, again in Tallinn at the end of three years without ticket fares, the number of passengers increased by 14% which obviously meant fewer car users so, fewer emissions. This was also the case for the city of Aubagne in the same span of time after abolishing ticket fares the number of public transport passengers went up by 135.8% after adopting the initiative obviously therefore, they saw a reduction in car users and therefore emissions. There is also huge political support for developing public transport in these cities because it’s free. Many people also argue that it’s also socially beneficial as public transport is then seen as a common good just like free services like health care and education so it means that it is not just accessible to those that can afford it but everyone including those with low income so addresses issues of inequality. Overall it appears that from the example of the city of Tallinn that there physical evidence that it can work. I think it’s something that the UK should at least have a trial period with. However, this only really solves the congestion and pollution in cities and large towns but what would also really increase public transport users is making the systems more convenient for people and comfortable which would really make them choose it over their car. However, if we accelerate the rate at which people are switching in their vehicles for carbon-neutral ones then car use is only an issue of potential congestion and the need of more public and conveniently placed electric car charging points. Currently, government plans are in place to replace all petrol and diesel cars with electric cars by the year 2050 ish which perhaps could be accelerated by more financial support to car buyers as electric cars are much more expensive to buy. However brilliant as it is having carbon-neutral transport there is then an issue, as there’s going to be an increased demand for electricity there would then need to be increased supply of it for vehicle users at convenient charging points around the country.
It’s all well and good solving the transport emissions problem with electric cars and free public transport, however, how can these even be considered environmentally friendly when their source of power is accountable for 24% of emissions? It is true energy/electricity production is going in the right direction. Nations are rapidly being pressured to rely on energy production by renewable sources.
The government plans to continue to increase the production of energy from renewable sources however it’s not going to be a quick process when you think of all the powerhouses that will have to be shut down and the new machines that will have to be built. I could blabber on for ages about the pros and cons of different energy sources but purely for being carbon neutral, we know that renewable sources are required moving forward to reduce our emissions. Perhaps an immediate response to the current emissions in this sector is to balance it with tree plantation. According to an article by Thomas Crowther on WEforum.org there is an area the size of the US discovered by studying satellite images that is available to support tree growth across the globe. If planted these new forests once matured could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon which is a large proportion of the 300 billion tonnes released since the industrial revolution that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. So does this mean tree restoration could be our best chance of balancing CO2 emissions until better energy-producing sources are put into place? I’d say even for the local sake of better air quality that it’s worth a try.
The benefits to the environment is a huge sell point for vegan activists as agriculture accounts for 10% of CO2 emissions in the UK alone particular meat and dairy farming are huge contributors to emissions. The right to eat meat or consume dairy should not be taken away however serious consideration needs to be taken in for the disgusting huge amount of animal products we consume and their effect on the environment without mention of the wellbeing of the animals. A solution could be a high meat tax which could encourage people to, therefore, opt for a vegetarian or vegan alternative for which there are increasingly many. The issue, however, is that then there is social inequality as meat would become a delicacy only some can afford. Perhaps an approach should be taken to increase advertisement of the animal products alternatives and normalize their consumption, so people are more inclined to buy them. This as well as further educating people on the benefits and the necessity to reduce their consumption of these products will help fight this contributor to climate change. So, by dramatically descaling our animal product consumption we can abolish the need for intensive farming which is immensely stressful and unsanitary conditions for animals to be kept in any way. By less demand for the products, the lower crop yield of organic animal farming becomes more possible which means, for example, the development of superbug caused by using antibiotics in inorganic farming is no longer an issue. It really is easy research to find endless articles which suggest and show statistics for by cutting down on meat and dairy we save; water, land, forest and reduce our greenhouse emissions. I really think that a plant-based diet or just reducing meat and dairy should really be implemented by the government and minds should be educated and habits changed.
Another huge topic with the subject of agriculture and climate change is food waste which according to a BBC article accounts for as high as 8-10% of all global emissions. Some unsold food can be used to make animal feed or where suitable feed those can’t afford to buy it. I believe that also food should not be sold prepackaged. What I mean by this is that grains, nuts, vegetable and fruits should be available so in a way that the more by can choose the amount they wish to buy and consume rather than buy in predetermined portions that they might not necessarily be able to eat. This is already used in some very small individual stores known as refill stores. What they also save is plastic packaging which we have all been made aware of recently because it’s not biodegradable and expensive to recycle therefore it is point blankly not good for the environment. Supermarkets must all adopt this scheme in the immediate future as it reduces both plastic and food waste.
Residential and business buildings should be carbon neutral. Currently, the average household produces 17.1 tons of CO2 per year. To put that statistic into perspective in order to balance that CO2 produced for each household you would have to have 684 mature trees. By sourcing our electricity from green sources and carbon-neutral transport systems these issues should solve themselves. However, each individual and business need to think more about where they source their resources. The government needs stricter rules on large businesses regarding what they can produce considering its effect on the environment and we must find more ways to recycle our waste into new useful products. The number of pointless plastic toys etc. produced is ridiculous. Little crappy plastic things like the toys accompanying kids’ meals in fast food restaurant should just never be produced and should no longer be allowed to be produced. This is also the same for unnecessary plastic packaging and single-use products that we are encouraged not to buy well the government should just make sure that they can’t be produced in the first place then nobody can buy them. A huge area of business responsible for a huge carbon footprint is the fashion industry. An article on unearthed.greenpeace.org states that one polyester shirt has a carbon footprint of 5.5kg and just think of all the shirts you have. A huge culprit for its huge emissions is fast fashion, it has become a culture to buy an item, wear it once then chuck it out just as fast and the UK is one of the guiltiest for this. It’s estimated that the average person in the UK buys 26.7kg of clothing every year! The emissions from textile production scarily outweigh the emissions
of international flights and shipping combined. It’s a huge issue and I believe solutions lie in recycling. We should be encouraged more to give our clothes to charity shops or resell our preloved and clothes themselves must be increasing manufactured from recycled materials. Many clothes are already treated in this way but the options to buy recycled clothes and clothes made of recycled materials I believe is only found by those who seek it when in fact I believe they should be made more available and known to everyone. We need a recycle circle to become our new culture in order to reduce our waste and emissions so we don’t become drowning in emissions and choked by landfill.
Another huge issue in developing countries who are developing decades behind us and having their industrial revolutions now and on a much bigger scale. For example, China is the largest producer of greenhouse emissions due to its rapidly growing economy and a massive population.
The problem is we can’t be angry at china for wanting their country to develop and become richer as it’s hypocritical. We did the same thing in the 19th century up until the last 50 or so years as coal was our main way of energy production and the burning of this fossil fuel was a huge contributor to the greenhouse gases. So, the solution we need to find is how developing countries can invest into clean energy and skip out or massively cut down on burning fossil fuels so the efforts to become carbon neutral in 1st world countries is not reversed by the rest of the developing world.
Another issue we must solve is tackling the issues presented because of climate change, the biggest one directly affecting the UK being flooding. I read an article recently from the guardian which proposed we adopt similar flood-proof houses that they have designed in the Netherlands that aren’t damaged by rising sea levels and flooding. This would not only reduce home damage costs caused by flooding but also help solve the housing crisis if we can expand our dwellings into river and sea banks or even lakes. According to this article by Phil Spencer in august this year that states that according to the committee of climate change by the 2080s a possible 1.5 million homes in England alone will be in areas which will have major risks of flooding. A solution proposed by the article is building floating and amphibious houses which rise and fall with the floods. However, the article states that these costs 20% more than your normal house to build. But as flood plain land is for obvious reason much cheaper building land perhaps the cost isn’t necessary a massive difference and this could be something the government should consider when building new houses.
I think the problem is that in order to dramatically reduce our emissions big change must happen and quickly. I think most definitely in the areas of transport, energy production, agriculture, business and residential the solutions to the emissions produced are being developed and positively progressing in our country. However, the government really must act and set regulations so that people are forced to act and change their ways for the benefit of the environment.
From researching more into this topic it’s made me realize how very serious the issue is. As the statics show how the environment has been so dramatically impacted by human activity. It’s quite scary. However, it does feel me with a glimpse of hope knowing that the environment is a very big part of the current political campaign so I know that people high up in power know too that action must be taken.
Scarlet Todd, Year 12.