When the person who was the real-life inspiration for Lara Croft (ground crew), has been dropping increasingly unsubtle hints that it’s time to join the party and write a crew blog, you should probably start listening. So here it (finally) is…
The relatively ice free passage Northabout has experienced for the Arctic circumnavigation does not come as a major surprise given how we continue to mistreat our planet. The message from the international scientific research community (namely the IPCC) has been very clear for years, and continues to strengthen. If we maintain a ‘business as usual’ scenario in which we remain wedded to fossil fuels, global temperatures will continue to rise at an increasing rate as negative feedback processes take hold.
So whilst the publicity generated by events such as the Polar Ocean Challenge, and others like it, should be warmly applauded, the real question appears to be what will it take for step changes to be made in the way we produce energy?
In the UK we can point towards some modest progress, with offshore wind now making a significant contribution to our energy needs (though it will be interesting to see how renewable energy and climate targets established under a EU framework are dealt with in the wake of Brexit). Offshore wind may be expensive at present on a per unit basis, but not if we build in the true cost of carbon.
Even the controversial decision in the UK to proceed with the Hinkley C nuclear power station (we’ll actually pass the site on our way up the Bristol Channel in a couple of weeks time) can be viewed as a positive step in terms of climate change. Several eminent environmentalists have in recent years done a u-turn on nuclear power, now seeing it as the ‘least bad’ option amongst the large-scale, base-load generation options.
But while some individual/clusters of countries could be said to be moving in the right direction, global agreements on climate change policy have historically been almost impossible to achieve. One of the hurdles is the wide-ranging levels of development around the globe and by extension the varying attitudes to which climate change issues are a priority. Stir in complicating factors such as the widespread discovery of shale gas and the results have typically been non-binding targets with the overwhelming emphasis on rhetoric.
A significant problem is the short-term nature of UK government thinking, which tends to be focused on four year election cycles, rather than future generations. Add a deep global recession into the mix and environmental issues slip further down the agenda.
So where can we go from here? I suspect that unfortunately things will have to get considerably worse before they get better.