Too Hot to Handle?

Words by Jeremy Plester

A burning topic, climate change is happening right before our eyes. Dismissed by some, feared by many – just what can be done to stop the earth overheating?

Picture yourself: You’ve woken up with a bit of a hangover in north Cornwall. What better way to brush away the Stella-drenched cobwebs than a brisk walk along the coast path – after all the sun is shining, there’s a fresh west wind and bugger all surf? By the time you step out the front door, the wind has picked up and the clouds are looking a bit more menacing, but you decide to go anyway. Ten minutes into the walk and it’s belting down, but this is Cornwall and most likely the sun will be out again in 10 minutes... Not the case; it rains and rains all afternoon, with an intensity that you’ve not seen since your round the world ticket dumped you in deepest darkest India slap bang in the middle of the monsoon. Eventually you turn round, get back in the car and watch telly all aftenoon. When the news comes on, RAF Sea Kings are airborne, plucking holidaymakers from rooftops, and local news bulletins are already blaming global warming for the freakish weather.

From a scientific point of view, it is a mistake to label every extreme weather event as freaky – floods, droughts, storms and all sorts of other meteorological mishaps have been going on since time began. Cornwall’s position perched in the gap between Europe and the Atlantic Ocean means there is always going be some pretty extreme weather coming our way from time to time. Whether individual events like those that took place in Boscastle last year are a direct result of man-made climate change is open to question. What is certain is that that one group of scientists were worried enough about the situation that in the weeks running up to the G8 conference, they issued an unambiguous warning to the world’s leaders that they must act now or face the consequences.

In a strange twist of irony, after last summer’s deluge at Boscastle parts of Cornwall got only 60% of the average expected rainfall in the months between last November and this July. And it’s not just here that is parched; this summer Spain and Portugal have been in the grips of a devastating drought. More evidence that our climate is a fickle beast. That’s the thing: climate change wears a cloak of many colours, manifesting itself in lots of different ways. One minute it is flooding, the next it’s a drought, then there are peculiar tropical fish being caught by our fishing fleet off the Lizard and worries about parts of the Isles of Scilly disappearing underwater as sea levels rise.

According to the scientists, the earth is warming at an unprecedented pace and something needs to be done. So, when Mr Blair invited the biggest players in the world’s economy to Gleneagles for the G8 summit to discuss, amongst other things, the role they could play in sorting out the mess that a couple of centuries of burning fossil fuels have got us into, you might expect that the world’s leaders would want to play ball.

The gathering didn’t quite go to plan. As soon as the bombs went off in London on 7 July, the G8 summit went from centre stage to several rows back. The ‘green corner’ had been hoping that by showing support for the war against Iraq, Tony Blair could get some valuable concessions from the Americans when it came to emissions controls and the hunt for alternative energy sources.

“Not so,” says Greenpeace Policy Director, Simon Reddy. “All the spin and rhetoric from Number 10 before the conference, which promised to take decisive action on climate change, has come to nothing,” he claims despairingly. “All we’ve got from the conference are promises to take the issue to the next summit. Nothing in the way of emissions quotas or timetabling for the reduction of emissions has been set. Effectively, all they are doing is treading water. The G8 conference has failed to take any notice whatsoever of the stark warning from the scientific community to take action, and to take action now or face the consequences.” When asked whether any good had come from the conference at all, the answer was instant and blunt: “No.”

So if the world’s leaders are not prepared to take action, who is? Our little corner of the world is doing more than its share of things to abate climate change. Not content with windfarms popping up all over the place, ever more grandiose schemes to generate green power are in the pipeline. Regen SW – the Southwest’s renewable energy agency – has announced that ongoing wave energy trials off the coast of St Ives have been a success. “The results were very favourable”, says Matthew Spencer, chief executive for Regen SW. Happy that it will no longer be just surfers harvesting the waves in North Cornwall, he said, “The Cornish coast could provide low carbon, renewable energy in abundance.” Following on from these results, the Regional Development Agency is keen to get a wave energy scheme moving quickly and are lobbying hard for the DTI and the Environment Agency to give the go-ahead.

Should the project be given the green light, it will generate enough energy to sustain 14000 homes. Add that to the households that are already provided for by Cornish wind power and we can see that green energy, Kernow-style, is a viable option for a sustainable future. That should send a message to the leaders who choose to turn a blind eye to a problem that is surely one of the most pertinent issues the global community faces.