Climate crisis should be top of world leaders’ agenda | Letters

Letters: It’s a far safer bet to stop putting ever more carbon into the atmosphere than to hope that one day we’ll find some technofix that will suck it out again

Your article (Paris attacks cast shadow over climate talks, 23 November) helpfully draws attention to the different responses we have to crises. The shockingly violent events in Paris and their aftermath received almost blanket media coverage for about a week, during which we appear to have become collectively ready to sacrifice billions of pounds and who knows how many lives to a quick response (bombing Isis in Syria) which, by most rational judgments, will do more harm than good for our interests in the long term. Notwithstanding the emotional and psychological imperative to “do something”, would it not be wiser to do nothing until we know what it would be useful to do?

Meanwhile, a more dangerous and sinister enemy than terrorism looms on the horizon in the form of climate change. Despite knowing about this menace for over 20 years and having developed the resources and know-how to defeat it, we have simply allowed the situation to worsen. We know the identity of the “evil masterminds” (the leaders of heavy-carbon industries) behind this ongoing atrocity which is in the process of slaughtering many millions of people and could quite conceivably wipe out civilisation. We also know the identities and whereabouts of the “terrorists” – every one of us who carries out the wishes of the masterminds by burning fossil fuel as if there was no tomorrow and neglecting to invest properly in the renewable energies that can save us.

It’s time we learned how to make use of a crisis. The Paris attacks can be a catalyst for world leaders and their administrators attending the forthcoming climate summit to work collaboratively with courage and determination, charged with the new sense of solidarity and urgency referred to in your article, to begin solving a problem which – though immensely difficult, complicated and challenging – we actually know how to solve.
Chris Neill
Peper Harow, Surrey

• Remember in March the impact of the Guardian’s climate change covers with extracts from Naomi Klein’s book? The next day’s front page had Bill McKibben describing the Paris climate conference as “a last chance for humanity”. My immediate hope was for similar prominence ahead of the conference itself next week, but this Monday’s cover was all advertisements – particularly disappointing when recent carbon news deserves front page treatment.

For example, the UK government is going almost naked into the Paris conference chamber. Subsidies to the UK’s successful solar PV and onshore wind industries have been savagely cut. Recently the replacement was announced: a major expansion of natural gas electricity generation. Every kWh that would have been generated by the continued growth of PV or wind power if replaced by natural gas will increase greenhouse gas emissions substantially: nine times more when substituting for PV and 13 times more when replacing wind.

The successes of the renewable industries also deserve front page exposure. Good Energy reports that wind and PV have reduced wholesale electricity prices. Data that I reported with European colleagues in Nature Materials shows that the UK was catching up with Germany in PV and wind power before the cuts. Germany has seen a 37% fall in wholesale electricity price in three years. If the cuts were reversed, such a fall would be achievable in the UK by 2018 and wind and PV power could reach their target contributions to an all-renewable UK electricity supply by 2022.
Emeritus professor Keith Barnham

• Sam Knight offers an optimistic view of the UN’s proposed forest conservation mechanism – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) (The long read, 24 November). However, the proposed market-based version of REDD+ that will be discussed at the climate summit in Paris in December is badly flawed.

Where there are pressures to convert forests to alternative land uses, the scheme would only succeed when the money that a forest owner would receive from selling REDD+ carbon credits were to exceed the money they would receive from deforestation and using the cleared land for, say, beef or palm oil farming. When this is so, a rational owner would in theory opt to conserve their forests. But should the price of carbon credits fall, and the price of other commodities rise, so that the revenues from farming exceed that which can be earned from REDD+, then the rational response would be to move from conservation to conversion. So a market-based mechanism could only succeed as a durable conservation mechanism when the money that forest owners gain from “selling” carbon exceeds all other alternatives over the long term. And there is absolutely no basis in economic theory – nor evidence from the many REDD+ pilot projects carried out to date – to suggest that this should be so.
David Humphreys
Reader in environmental policy, The Open University

• The urgency of the climate crisis requires meaningful action on a scale commensurate with the problem, ie rapidly phasing out the use of fossil fuels, stopping the destruction of forests and other ecosystems and allowing damaged ones to regenerate. Promoting unproven technologies as “solutions” is dangerous because it distracts from those urgent tasks.

Unfortunately, many of the supposed “solutions” that Tim Flannery so optimistically writes about (Seaweed, coffee and cement could save the planet, Review, 21 November) are entirely unproven and in some cases quite impossible. Take carbon sequestration in seaweed farms: Flannery proposes using vast seaweed farms to produce fuel as well as food. Such uses would swiftly return all the CO2 in the seaweed to the atmosphere. There are problems with various other claims, too. For example he speaks of “carbon negative cement”, yet the company he cites in his book doesn’t claim that its technology is “carbon negative”, only that it reduces carbon emissions. Or take the “CO2 snow”: the lead author of the scientific study that Flannery appears to rely on has pointed out on a blog that Flannery has misunderstood the findings: temperatures in Antarctica aren’t low enough and pressure isn’t high enough for CO2 to turn into snow.

Flannery admits that those are not proven solutions, yet he still says “some of the third way approaches are likely to be in the frontline of the future battle to stabilise our climate”. It’s a far safer bet to stop putting ever more carbon into the atmosphere than to hope that one day we’ll find some technofix that will suck it out again.
Almuth Ernsting

• History provides us with several examples of societies collapsing through force of habit, including an addiction to meat (Tax on meat not too hard to swallow, study suggests, 24 November). When the Vikings colonised Greenland in the 10th century, they were determined to preserve their tribal customs, which included raising cattle. Because pasture was limited and the growing season only three months, virtually all of the land was used to grow silage to see the cattle through the winter. After nine months indoors, cattle were so weak they had to be carried out to pasture. When the climate turned harsher this agricultural system became unsustainable and the Vikings of Greenland perished. I wonder whether the modern world will fare any better as we career towards climate catastrophe.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

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