Contributor: Jeremy Bugler
I wonder if we have reached a turning point – perhaps several turning points – this winter. The weather has been so continuously, so protractedly, so mercilessly weird for the last few months in Britain that I am sure I am detecting another phenomenon: the vanishing of homo negatio, the climate change denying human being. Earlier last year, one could run across home negatio at any turn; in the Hay tapas bar, a quiet drink could be savaged by someone telling you that there was no such thing as climate change. In a small fishing village in West Wales, old folk might mutter ‘we’ve seen weather like this scores of times.’
Quite suddenly, the voices of denial have gone quiet. The Today Programme runs items on climate change in a sensible way, without Their Man in Denial – i.e. Lord Lawson of Naysaying – on the programme. The BBC’s environment correspondent Roger Harrabin has taken at last to talking about climate change as a blunt fact, without his yesteryear qualifying “if it is taking place…”
It is remarkable what a few weeks of continuously wild and warm weather can do, the flower power of the daffodil blooming in late December, the crocus and primrose in January.
The statistics of “the warmest ever…” are indeed remarkable. For instance: in the Central England temperature series which has been running from 1659 this has been easily the warmest December. Locally, the mean temperature of 10.5 C was 5.4 C above the average. Amazing. On Boxing Day, we had 15.5˚C or just 60 Fahrenheit, which counted for a warm May morning in my youth.
But let’s not get carried away. Although the deniers have slunk back to the undergrowth, it’s probably the case that climate change is a peripheral problem for most Britons, west, east, north or south. They’d put housing, jobs, the NHS, schools above the even more important and decisive factor of climate change. (See Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall. )
I am at a loss to imagine what will make us all think differently.
I had a shock yesterday, when trying to sort out something on Amazon. My laptop screen was suddenly hijacked by coarse and lumpen features. That’s right, it was Jeremy Clarkson. Can we never escape this dreadful man? I thought when he was sacked from the BBC for punching a colleague I would never have to see in motion that loutish assemblage again. I think the least Amazon could do is put up a full screen warning before the man hoves into view: “The following video may cause severe distress for anyone with an IQ score above that of a Ford Escort”.
Which creature has the greater number of genes, the nematode worm or homo sapiens? Neither in fact. It’s pretty much a dead heat. Clarkson, however…
Nothing causes the bowels of politicians to go into meltdown faster than the thought of power cuts. In this highly inter-connected world, that is understandable. The outcry on February 2nd when BT had trouble with its broadband for a few hours only shows how dependent we have become on the internet and of course electric power. At the end of January, an official report suggested that with the phasing out of Magnox reactors and filthy coal powered stations we might be heading for a period of power cuts. New power sources are being slow in coming on stream.
In his very valuable book Sustainable Energy – Without The Hot Air David McKay looks in one chapter at how demand can be managed – so that if there’s a surge in demand, the lights won’t go off. He examines ingenious ideas such as using the batteries of millions of electric vehicles as energy stores, able to pump power back into the grid when it’s needed.
Yet I’m struck how very little is done to encourage us to use less electricity. Tariffs are constructed so that the frugal user pays more in proportion than the profligate. No politician suggests that heavy users ought to pay penalties for their extra demand. Well, let me suggest it. It would be a form of progressive taxation, as well as having environmental benefits. The mansion tax failed, but whopping electricity bills for the houses of the rich (to be spent on helping poorer households) could be an answer.