It’s Up to Old Blighty

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Two weeks ago, the NASA scientist James Hansen released a statement calling upon the UK and Germany to reject planned coal fired power plants as these countries have a “historic responsibility” to combat climate change. According to his calculations, the UK has the highest per capita contribution to CO2 emissions already in the atmosphere (as you can see in the chart above).

That’s right Britons- especially rich Britons- are you paying attention? We are responsible for more excess carbon molecules in the air than the US or China or India or anyone else on the planet. We started this mess with the Manchester factories of the industrial revolution, and their mechanized mass production based on coal, and some of us have become extraordinarily- almost ridiculously- wealthy in the process. We now have a moral duty to be a world leader in the transition away from fossil fuels- yet we are planning new coal mines like the one in Wales planned to extract 10m tons of coal over the next 17 years, motorway widenings, and a third runway at Heathrow airport. From the capitalist growth economy perspective, there are truly no limits.

If we continue along this path, future generations will not think of the double decker bus, cute red phoneboxes, or the Beatles when they think of the UK- they will think of the worst climate criminals on the face of the planet, too blinded by our own avarice to change our ways- hooking the world on a dirty energy habit, and refusing to cut down ourselves even when serious problems are on the horizon.

This is one possible scenario- and a depressing one surely- but there is another storyline- one of a rapid awakening, a transition to a less consumer oriented culture, renewable energy, local communities and food production, cities where you can breathe again and cycling and walking is prioritized. We can make it happen, but the people have to lead. If the English lead, surely the citizens of other countries will sit up and take notice and want a piece of what we’ve got. And that’s an export we can all live with.

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3 responses to “It’s Up to Old Blighty

  1. I hadn’t seen this graph from Hansen before now, though it is no surprise that Britain’s history has a lot to answer for in more ways than one.

    It is important to remind ourselves of our carbon legacy, at a time when many are trying to sidestep the question by denouncing India and China for their emissions. One (one-way) long haul flight to Thailand is responsible for more carbon emissions than the average Indian expends in one year. Having said this, and even though there is a long way still to go, Britons have a higher level of awareness than many other countries and it will not be long before America’s legacy combined with its seemingly unstoppable emissions growth overtakes even the UK.

    Keep trying everyone :)

  2. This is a great posting. The per cap cumulative emissions graph is a very, very telling. Those who indusrialised earliest, fastest and most heavily have the biggest share of the responsibility for causing climate change and should do most to help sort it out.

  3. Is this also why Germany is leading the way in Europe on renewables? Is that a ‘historical responsibility’ for the environmental damage caused by two world wars?

    In case it isn’t obvious, that paragraph is firmly ‘tongue in cheek’, ‘historical responsibility’ is a bit more complicated than your post might imply.

    Love the blog though!

    Jakob.

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