From flooding in Houston to flash fires across Europe, Angela Terry looks at why this Summer's extreme weather means we need to act on climate change now more than ever.
Ten years ago, in a village hall in Oxfordshire, the Chair of the planning committee used his deciding vote to permit the first wind farm in the south east of England. As the Development Director at Energy4All, I was delighted by his leadership but also by the support for this pioneering project from the wider co-operative movement. Midcounties Co-op leant us work space, Co-ops UK provided a grant, the Co-op Bank a commercial loan and hundreds of people joined in the vision. Even when a global shortage of turbines occurred, our tiny co-op secured a contract from a sympathetic Danish supplier so Westmill is truly a great story of co-operation and climate action.
Public support for renewables and climate action has never been higher. Community renewables continues to grow and 900,000 homes and businesses generate their own clean energy. Yet in 2016 renewables accounted for less than 9% of the UK’s total energy consumption.
It is clear therefore that combatting climate change through the twin track approach of energy efficiency and renewable is possible, practical and popular. The benefits of clean energy are well documented. Skilled jobs, increased GDP, improved energy security, clean air, community benefit funds, free fuel, no greenhouse gas emissions, health benefits - the list goes on.
Yet we’re not acting fast enough and the impacts are devastating.
This summer alone there were wild fires across Europe, flash floods in Cornwall and in Houston, Hurricane Harvey has dumped over a metre of rain in just 3 days! Extreme weather events are rapidly increasing in frequency and intensity as more energy from the sun is trapped in our atmosphere. Clouds hold more rain in hotter temperatures and hurricanes build over warmer seas. These changes are already costing trillions of pounds in damages, loss of life and irreversible harm to our natural world.
So why are we not talking about climate change? At home, work, in the media and in public life? Why is this crisis not our first and foremost priority?
Water in particular, is a huge issue ironically both because of too much and too little. Droughts impact on our food supply, health, manufacturing, migration and power stations. Meanwhile, nearly all our major towns, cities and villages were located specifically for their proximity to water, leaving billions of people, buildings and infrastructure at increasing risk of flooding from rising sea levels and downpours.
Sadly it is always the poorest, the uninsured, the most vulnerable who are hit the hardest when disaster strikes. The striking image of care home residents sitting in filthy flood water was shared on Twitter after being told by emergency services they were on their own. Thankfully they were rescued but the death toll in Houston continues to rise.
Given the level of harm involved prevention is definitely better than a cure. Solutions exist and their costs have plummeted as wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars are mass produced. Dirty, imported fossil fuels are on the way out. The only question is can we transition fast enough to avoid the worst?
Leadership from politicians is paramount as the stakes could not be higher. Why wait until it is too late? UK industry desperately needs policy clarity from the Clean Growth Plan but the public also need guidance. Last year emissions increased in the public, residential and transport sectors. For the first time ever SUVs became the most popular car of choice. Consumer trends won’t change by magic.
Co-operation is the best and only chance we have to ensure a rapid transition to clean energy and protect people and places from the irreversible impacts of global warming. This is no time for petty point scoring. Tackling and preparing for a warmer, unstable world has to be a top priority. The labour movement has a proud history of leadership in this arena. When we work together we can achieve far more than when we work alone and there is no greater challenge than the deadly effects of global warming. Quite simply, the longer we delay the more lives will be lost.
Angela Terry MSc MEI
Angela Terry is an Environmental Scientist with over 18 years' experience in renewable, clean energy, including on-shore wind, hydro, solar and biomass schemes