Peter Wadhams examines what is really happening in the most mysterious, beautiful, and essential places on the planet and the immense implications for our world
The discovery in 2015 of the very high long-term climate sensitivity of the planet to greenhouse gases is of the utmost importance in clarifying what should be our priority as human beings in the crisis that faces us. What can we do, both individually and collectively, to try to save the world?
First, counter with all the power at your disposal the sewage-flow of lies and deceit emitted by climate change deniers and others who wish us to do nothing and hope that it all goes away. It will not go away. Be especially vigilant of the sinuous misrepresentations of politicians, from prime ministers downwards, and look out for glaring anomalies between what they say and what they do. Scientists who study climate change should be among the first to speak up, and should be prepared to risk the blighting of their careers and the absence of establishment honours.
Second, in your own life adopt every possible measure that will reduce unnecessary energy use, especially of fossil fuels. Why are more homes not insulated? This is the most energy-effective thing that you can do to your house, and from time to time a reluctant government even offers grants to assist you. Drive an economical car or ride a bike – many commutes and other types of journey in a town or city can be managed very effectively by electric bicycle. Install solar panels on your roof, even if you don’t receive a feed‑in subsidy.
Third, on a national scale, insist that the government changes the basis of power generation. Britain is particularly remiss in this respect. In 2015 82 per cent of our energy still came from fossil fuels. We are world leaders in the inventive development of wave power and current turbines, and have the marine environment to exploit these new ideas, whether it be our wave-lashed west coast, the fast flowing currents between the Orkneys, or the Severn bore. Yet only pitiful amounts of funding support comes from the government for the pioneers of these new energy systems.
Still on a national scale, do not be afraid of nuclear power. It really is a powerful source of the baseline energy that will keep the lights on without carbon emission. Be afraid of the cack-handed British approach, which has us buying outdated and dangerous water-cooled reactors from the French (or is it the Chinese?) which will take a decade to build. All the terrible nuclear accidents that have occurred over the past forty years – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima – originated in the complicated cooling systems used in water-moderated reactors.
Most important of all is the need to find a way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is the only thing that we can really do to save the world, so we had better do it while we still have the technical capacity and the civilization to sustain it. It is the most important problem that the world faces. If we solve it, our human civilisation can continue, and we can devote our energies to all other myriad challenges, from over population to water and food shortages, disease and war. If we don’t solve it, we are finished.
Along the way we have said a farewell to ice, but if we stabilize our atmosphere and climate the ice may return for our descendants to wonder at and enjoy.
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'Astonishing ... beautiful, compelling and terrifying' Observer
'Wadhams' writing sparkles ... a lyrical sense of wonder at the natural world ... essential reading ... may be the best reader-friendly account of the greenhouse effect available to date' John Burnside, New Statesman
Ice is beautiful and complex. It regulates our planet's temperature. And it is vanishing - fast. Peter Wadhams, the world's leading expert on sea ice, draws on his lifetime's research in the Arctic region to illuminate what is happening, what it means for the future, and what can be done.
'This most experienced and rational scientist states what so many other researchers privately fear but cannot publicly say' John Vidal, Guardian
'Wadhams brings huge expertise to his subject - and he is an excellent writer' Martin Rees
'Utterly extraordinary' Jonathon Porritt