What to do about Climate Change
Only last month, storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin knocked out the powerlines for thousands of homes, which left people shivering in the cold and dark. They caused rail networks all over the UK to break down and flights to be diverted or canceled. And this was the third time in the last six months the UK has experienced such storms. Meanwhile, gas prices have escalated, so that thousands of people are struggling to heat their homes for a completely different reason. At the same time, prices of petrol and diesel have hit record highs, so that car travel is becoming harder to afford.
As if the mounting pressure on energy prices was not enough already, on 24th February, Russia invaded Ukraine. The resulting sanctions applied by the West on Russia have turned an economic crisis into a war zone in which gas and to a lesser extent oil have been weaponised. They are the means by which the West and Russia are fighting one another to resolve the clash of real weapons in the conflict on the ground. The consequence for the populations of all European countries including the UK is that energy prices are now rising exponentially. We can expect the cost of energy at wholesale level to rise by anything up to 10 times higher than it was a year ago, by the Autumn of 2022, the cost of petrol and diesel to rise by anything up to 5 times higher.
Could we be given a clearer signal? Our way of life is coming to an end, the train about to terminate, we do all have to change here. I want to talk about what we can do to contain the problem within our own economic context. We cannot alter the course of the war. But we can still alter the course of climate change. So that’s it: I want to write a guide to what we can do about climate change.
These are some of the things that we have to sort out. I think it’s obvious, and hope you will too:-
Dependence on the current power supplies is based on a national grid, which in turn is based on huge power stations generating the power for large groups of people. This large distribution network means that large numbers of people are vulnerable to it breaking down. Micro-grids have exactly the opposite characteristics, but have always been irrelevant in the context of massive coal-burning or nuclear power stations. But now we have renewable technology, which lends itself readily to local, small-scale generation. Let’s deconstruct the means of generation and distribution, and create micro-generation for micro-grids. It will provide a secure electricity supply in the worsening weather we are facing. Solar and wind should lead the way. So what should we all do? I address each of you:
- Politicians: I am starting with you, including the Prime Minister, because you hold the levers in your hands that control how energy works in this country. You can legislate, and support. Legislate for the Power Networks to invest in micro grids, and for the generators to invest in local renewable generation. Support with the budgets to roll them out to the general population.
- Energy Companies: By and large, you are trying to migrate from traditional fossil fuels to renewables, with some success. But your threatened sector has taken the biggest hit imaginable with the bankruptcies caused by the escalating gas prices. Is the micro-grid concept a potential lifeline for you? You need to plan, budget for, and create the ability to transform the delivery of energy into sustainable formats which will not be blown over by gusts of extremely strong winds. Should micro-grids be one of them, if not the main one? You MUST make renewable energy products available to all to make this happen, though, and you are not doing that at the moment.
- Individuals: Use less energy and get ready to buy the renewable energy products once the Energy Companies make them available and affordable.
We all know gas boilers are becoming worse than useless. Around 14% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from domestic heating. Gas boilers cause the whole climate problem to get worse and worse, without having any obvious affordable means of replacement. Newly developed high temperature heat pumps could be the solution. These would allow direct replacement of existing gas boilers without any other change to our gas-heated systems, other than that it no longer burns gas or emits carbon. Hooray! The problem is, they are only prototypes at the time of writing, they are being tested in Sweden by Vattenfall, one of the largest energy companies in Europe, and they would still be very expensive. So what do we all have to do here?
- Politicians: This one is slightly easier for you than Electricity. And also it’s a great story about removing the horrific cost burden of gas. You can be entirely positive. You have already created a law requiring the phasing out of gas boilers in the UK by 2035. You are also launching a boiler upgrade incentive scheme in April 2022. This is movement in the right direction, but now you need to take responsibility for finding the replacement. Incentivise the energy companies and entrepreneurs to develop the technology. Quickly. Vattenfall may well be able to help.
- Energy Companies: You need to get right behind testing the alternatives. At the same time, we need the entrepreneurs here to create companies exploring the new technologies. What else might work? There are other opportunities. Product innovation is a risk which will bring large rewards.
Electric Vehicles (EVs)
Here is the good bit. EVs are a really good solution to the escalating petrol and diesel prices. The cost of charging EVs is significantly lower than the cost of traditional fuels. That’s the good news. The bad news? EVs are currently useless for anything other than local transport because the limitations on the battery range and the poor charging infrastructure in the UK mean you cannot travel long distances without suffering a new phenomenon known as ‘range anxiety’.
- Politicians: Implement legislation requiring every garage forecourt in Britain to have EV charging stations. I would also require them to be installed with the same level of comfort provided to the driver as applies to refueling with petrol or diesel. Canopies to shelter from the rain cannot be hard. Put them in the same central areas as the petrol and diesel pumps, not in the corner where they are difficult to find and awkward to access. And while you are at it, could you stretch to mandating a standard protocol, so the luckless EV driver does not have to install a different app for each different charge point?
- Oil & Gas companies: Please read the above. Why have you not done this? They are your forecourts after all.
I have nothing to say about this, because there is nothing to be said. There is only something to be done. Insulate. Then you won’t need to spend so much on heating. Listen to Chris Stark, CEO of the Climate Change Committee or read his reports on the matter.
Chaos has been caused in this latest British winter. Rail travel, air travel, road travel – it has all been compromised by the latest winter conditions. Is it going to get any better? No. Is travel itself going to continue to increase the harm it has already done? Yes. So what should we do?
Politicians: implement a frequent flier levy. It is business travel that is doing the most harm, not the odd holiday that people look forward to going on all year. A frequent flier levy would make businesses think twice about whether they really need to travel.
This Guide on what to do about climate change is itself a beginning. It’s the start of a journey to reach an understanding of what we need to do to change the way we live. We need to be able to accommodate the changes that are already happening to our climate, without our own lives breaking down around us. And we need to change the way we live to avoid even more damaging changes to our climate. It’s a difficult journey, because we have no map. No-one does. We don’t know where to go, or how to go there. But we can see the destination. What does it look like? Safety. What does safety mean? Protection from the dangers we face from natural and human causes, floods, storms and wars. They all have the ability to stop us from living the lives we want to lead. If we get the answers right, we will at least be safe from some of these threats.