Contrary to the article by James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley (Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change, 3 December), many scientists around the world remain sceptical that nuclear is the answer, or even part of the answer, to climate change. The academic authors have a fine record in identifying the causes and consequences of climate change, but their proposed solution simply doesn’t make sense.

The main problem is that, contrary what many think, nuclear power is a poor method of reducing carbon emissions: its uranium ore and fuel processes have heavy carbon footprints. Indeed, of the ways to reduce carbon emissions in the energy sphere, nuclear is by far the most expensive in terms of pound per tonne of carbon saved.

Renewables, especially wind and solar, are now less expensive, quicker to install, and much safer: with them one does not have to worry about the spectres of Chernobyl and Fukushima.

But perhaps most important of all is the moral dimension. Given the technical and political obstacles to dangerous spent nuclear fuel, should we be passing these problems to future generations? What about the Irish Sea, still the most radioactively contaminated sea in the world due to Sellafield’s discharges? What about the sheep farms in north Wales still subject to food controls due to radioactive contamination from Chernobyl almost 30 years ago?

The climate change negotiators in Paris should think hard before recommending nuclear as a solution. It isn’t.
Dr Paul Dorfman
Dr Ian Fairlie
Dr David Lowry
Jonathon Porritt

• In his speech to COP in Paris, Prince Charles said “We must save our forests” and “There is no plan B to tackle climate change without them.” I agree our forests are vital; but there is a plan B that would save them – and mitigate climate change. It would also greatly reduce hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

To save tropical forests we first have to reduce the pressures from tropical agriculture. This involves simple and inexpensive biological approaches to rehabilitate degraded farm land and improve crop yields from the current 10-15% of their biological potential. Then we need to plant local, highly favoured, traditionally important food trees to reduce hunger and malnutrition – species like safou, marula, shea, eru, baobab, and hundreds of others producing tasty, nutritious and marketable fruits, nuts and edible leaves. This diversification also restores ecological health and, importantly, generates income from the sale of their products in local markets. The final step is to set up new cottage industries to process and add value to these products, creating business and job opportunities to further improve household livelihoods.

Of course, this is the antithesis of conventional modern agriculture and is not understood by policymakers, but where it has been done it has been a huge success – see “Living with the Trees of Life – Towards the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture” (CABI, 2012). If you don’t believe me, ask the poor farmers of Africa. They fully understand it, and make the importance of this abundantly clear when they apply to us at the International Tree Foundation for funding.
Prof Roger Leakey
International Tree Foundation

• News about the airstrikes in Syria is in danger of overshadowing developments at the climate conference in Paris. Some environmentalists may view this as regrettable, but the upside is that it should serve to highlight that the two are actually linked. Between 2006 and 2009 Syria experienced its worst recorded drought. It left up to 1.5 million people refugees in their own country. This placed severe demands on urban centres to employ, house and feed rising populations that were largely ignored by the Assad government. Protests and the subsequent uprising in 2011 led to the current civil war and the rise of Daesh. A study by Kelley et al published this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1421533112) makes a convincing case for the initial drought to be associated with human-modified climate change. Increasing conflict, mass migration and geopolitical instability are the real impacts of unmitigated climate change.
Prof John Dearing
University of Southampton

• I sat in my house in Kendal on Saturday night watching the floodwaters creep up the road to a level never seen before. I was terrified, as were friends and townspeople. My neighbours had to evacuate, their homes waist-deep in water. The floodwaters stopped one house away from mine.

Storms hitting north-west England, particularly Cumbria, are becoming more common. They cause terror and disruption to us and our infrastructure on a scale that terrorists could never hope to achieve. Why is the government not waging war on climate change? The implication of climate-induced disruption and terror for people in their everyday lives is huge. Surely we should be dealing with this threat as a priority and making our infrastructure more resilient to such weather extremes.

Cumbria county council is facing another round of enormous cuts. How are we supposed to get back on our feet after these catastrophic floods when there is no money to fix the roads and railways, to fix flooded schools and day centres, and pay staff to do so? There is of course money to bomb Syria, despite the fact that severe climate change-induced weather events are significantly more of a threat to our way of life than Daesh.
Dr Kate Willshaw
Kendal, Cumbria

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