Time to say 'farewell to fossil'?

6 June 2018

Over the past two months, KesMail has been even more interesting than usual! Last month, there was an excellent article by Sustainable Keswick on the  growing problem of plastic pollution. Whilst March’s issue contains an extremely timely article, by Michael Hambrey, on the ever-increasing scientific evidence of the growing impact of ‘human activities’ on environmental change.
Interestingly, he mentions the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’, used by many Earth System scientists to call attention to the fact that geological strata deposits will now be - for the first time in Earth’s long history - massively dominated by those of recent human origin, as opposed to those due to natural changes.
Michael, rightly, also calls attention to the idea of the ‘Great Acceleration’: a term used by most Earth System scientists to denote the period after 1950. This has seen unprecedented economic growth - and an accompanying and increasing environmental devastation, which has resulted in what many scientists now refer to as the ‘Sixth Extinction’ as regards growing biodiversity loss.
Yet, strangely, he doesn’t link these environmental changes to their major cause: the release of carbon and methane gas, and other greenhouse gases, as a consequence of massively-increased burning of fossil fuels.  Of all the various human causes, it is the use of fossil fuels which is by far the most significant factor.
What makes the present global situation so dangerous is that scientists now know that some, relatively small changes/stimuli, have previously driven great qualitative changes in the very delicately-balanced Earth System. Recent studies have shown that some of these changes have been relatively abrupt - as opposed to climate changes occurring gradually over many centuries or even millennia.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change still bases its work on the assumption that climate change will be gradual. Yet research shows that ‘tipping points’ (or thresholds) in the Earth System, once passed, have sometimes led to rapid climate change and sudden environmental transitions. Some abrupt changes - for instance, a 10 degree C change! - occurred over time-periods as short as decades, or even a few years.

Surely the lesson to be taken from all this is that we need to leave all remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground and, instead, move rapidly to renewable forms of energy. This is particularly true of fracking - although both the Labour Party and the Lib Dems have belatedly followed the lead of the Green Party on this, the Conservative government is still pushing this most dangerous of all fossil fuels. For those in Cumbria who think the fracking problem exists only in Lancashire or North Yorkshire, they should check out the fracking licences outlined for Cumbria’s Solway area.
Allan Todd
Published in KesMail April 2018

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