How not to save the planet

The world is on the verge of passing 400ppm (parts per million) CO2.

As a reminder, pre-industrial levels were somewhere around 280ppm. A 'safe limit' might be 350ppm (yes, that's where got their name). As CO2 levels peak, as they do around May, each year, levels of 399.72ppm have already been recorded and 400ppm is likely in the next few days.

This news is breaking while countries gather in Bonn this week for yet more climate negotiations. We might expect to see Ministers and Prime Ministers rushing to respond to the crisis while the world's media holds its breath. Or not. In the words of anonymous blogger at the talks 'Low Carbonara' "The sense of urgency was palpable but only when it was time for lunch."

Photo by Sébastien Duyck of Adopt a Negotiator.

The two graphs below from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography show CO2 levels over the past 300 years and the past 800,000 years. It is clear that this concentration of CO2 is unprecedented for hundreds of thousands of years. In fact, the last time scientists estimate CO2 levels were around 400ppm were in the Pliocene, 5 million to 3 million years ago. Global temperatures were 3-4C higher than today, sea levels 5-40m higher. The difference is that today, levels of CO2 have risen over a few years, not millennia, and the rise shows no signs of stopping.

Freezing spring - weird weather coming from a melting Arctic?

Photo by Paul Blakeman taken 24 March.

This is getting tedious. It's snowing AGAIN and it's now April... Like almost everyone else, we're getting fed up with the freezing weather. But what lies behind it? Just the well-known unpredictability of UK weather or something more worrying? It seems counter-intuitive to attribute unseasonally cold weather to 'global warming'. In fact, both last year's record March warmth and this years snowfall seem to be linked to a warmer Arctic affecting the jetstream and causing erratic weather patterns.

The climate argument for cheap fares

Here’s a startling statistic.  Rail only accounts for 1.8% of CO2 emissions from transport in the UK.  Cars ands lorries make up 75%:   It should be a no-brainer for any government keen to tackle climate change:   develop a clear strategy to persuade people to switch from road to rail.

Modal shift required

The Government will point out that more people are travelling by rail than have done so for decades.  It is true.  But the ‘m’ and ‘s’ phrase is missing: modal switch.  More people are travelling by road as well.  Except in a very few areas , people are not switching from road to rail.

The Government will also say – quite correctly – that it is investing huge sums in new infrastructure.  But, in a world threatened by runaway climate change, on its own, that is not enough.  And, indeed, may be counter-productive if it just results in more travel per se.  What’s required is a significant switch from road to rail.  What’s needed is a real reduction in the number of cars on our roads.

And that’s where pricing comes in.  A clear policy of ensuring it is always cheaper for a working family to travel by train rather than by car would result in the modal shift required.

Support the Fairfail campaign

But pricing is going the other way.  Rail fares are shooting up way above inflation.  That’s why the Campaign against Climate Change is urging its supporters to get involved with the Farefail campaign:

On Valentine’s Day Farefail supporters will be giving out leaflets at scores of stations across the country to call for an end to this fares madness.  The Government argues that the higher fares are required so that the contribution of the taxpayer to the cost of the railways falls.  But in climate terms it is madness.

To tackle climate change with the deep urgency that is needed requires both investment in rail and lower fares as part of a clear policy to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads.  In the end it also makes economic sense, creating new jobs and bringing down fares even further as more people use the trains.

Put Beeching in reverse

Fifty years ago in March Dr Beeching published his now infamous report that resulted in so much of the country’s network being destroyed.  As a small boy I remember being taken to a remote station in the Scottish Highlands to jeer at Dr Beeching as he sped past in an engine surveying the rail system he was so keen to close.  That line was saved but many were axed.

I don’t expect Dr Beeching had ever heard of climate change.  Today’s decision-makers most certainly have.  To help tackle it requires putting Beeching into reverse gear.