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Acting locally, thinking globally

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“Think global; act local” – the phrase often used by of Friends of the Earth – is an excellent philosophy.

Since most of us do not have the power to influence international events, we should focus more on taking practical steps in our own localities. Climate change is the ultimate global issue and it does not matter where greenhouse gases are emitted. So global thinking is needed. However, practical measures are more important than yet more thought and discussion or international targets. Copenhagen is important, but must not be the only focus at the moment.

Yesterday, I went to my nearest hospital, the Whittington, to talk about helping them reduce their carbon emissions. This would save money in the medium term, but requires upfront capital investment and NHS budgets do not have spare money. Even if the financial payback is only two years, operations cannot be postponed to free money for investment. It has very committed staff and ambitious, worked-out plans. Therefore, Climate Answers will try to help the hospital to raise money, for three projects:

  • Fitting new thermostats in wards and rooms. They have a new, efficient heating system, but this means that some parts of the hospital are often too warm. This is uncomfortable for patients and staff, and also bad for healthcare as germs breed more rapidly. As a result, windows are often opened, even in mid-winter.
  • Fitting solar thermal panels to heat water. This will be in some of the older buildings, including those where staff live.
  • Converting the hospital vehicle fleet to electricity. This will also include creating charging points for these, which could also be used by visitors.

I then went to the Centre for European Reform think tank for a seminar on EU-China relations. The Chinese government is making good progress on renewables and on carbon capture and storage, and has said that it will reduce the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP. There is also an EU-China summit in Beijing on 30 November 2009. Speakers and participants agreed that the climate should be a top priority for EU-China relations and the Centre for European Reform will publish a paper in November 2009 on what issues this should cover. Climate Answers will post a summary of this.

After that, I went to a meeting of the Conservative Climate Campaign to hear a debate and talk about rainforest protection. Greg Barker, the shadow climate change minister, chaired the event and his boss, the Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Greg Clark, was in the audience. It is impressive for a leading politician to go to an event merely to listen and learn.

Deforestation is the cause of about 18% of global greenhouse emissions each year. Forest destruction is also disastrous for the millions of people who live in forests, for wildlife and for local weather patterns. Over 80% of Brazilian electricity is from hydro-electricity (see Brazil – climate and energy statistics), so, if the Amazon is destroyed, Brazil will be left without most of its power. The Brazilian government wants to stop the destruction, but needs money to do so (see Editorial 11 August 2009: Brazil must look after the Amazon – with our help).

Stopping forest destruction would be the quickest way to control greenhouse emissions. However, the international negotiations to replace or update the Kyoto Protocol will not be finalised in Copenhagen: Kyoto runs until 2012, so the politicians have another two years for discussion. However, we cannot wait this long for a business plan for the low-carbon transition and we certainly cannot wait two years for money for forest protection. Negotiations on the text on forests is said to be going better – or less badly – than on other issues. Therefore, the top priority for Copenhagen must be to provide the necessary billions to stop rainforest destruction in South America, Africa and Asia.

By Stephen Tindale

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Climate change is the most serious issue ever to have faced humanity. Rightly, it is now high on the public, political, media and business agendas. However, too much of the discussion is still about what we should not be doing or what we should be against. There is not enough discussion or information on solutions - what we can and should do to minimise dangerous climate change, and what should be done to make us not only safer and more secure, but also richer and happier.

Stephen Tindale photoStephen Tindale (29 March 1963 – 1 July 2017) was a British environmentalist who was Executive Director of Greenpeace UK from 2000 to 2005. He was Director of The Alvin Weinberg Foundation, co-founder of the organisation Climate Answers, Associate Fellow at the Centre for European Reform and co-author of Repowering Communities with Prashant Vaze.