Ryeview – August 2003

We are waiting for a crisis

John Clark writes…

First published: August 2003 – Gazette& Herald

The flooding in Norton was not a crisis.” This may be an alarming statement but let me explain how I was given this view.  I was suggesting to someone in Norton that Ryedale had an urgent need to cut down its use of energy, materials and waste.  The reply was that the people of Ryedale would not ‘swallow’ this approach. Certainly not unless there was a ‘crisis’. My view was that if floodwater was flowing in through one door and out through another it was a crisis. Obviously not. What would need to happen for something to be called a crisis?

If we wait until a ‘crisis’ occurs in Ryedale it may be too late. Why is it vital that Ryedale takes action now? There are two answers to this question.

Firstly Ryedale is more dependent on its environment than many other places in Britain. If climate change seriously damages the environment not only will agriculture suffer but also tourism.

The second reason has to be viewed from a global scale. A third of the world exists on less than  $2 per day. If the poorest two billion raised their lifestyles up to those of Ryedale what would be the consequences?

Taking the use of energy in China as an example. The population of China is 1.3 billion. The vast majority of which are not in the ‘wealthy’ third of the world. Energy use per person in China is a quarter of the energy used per person in Europe. When China lifts its energy use up to that of Europe the world’s energy use will increase by over 50%. I’ve used “when” because China is determined (and succeeding) to lift its standard of living up to that of the West. A 50% increase in the worlds energy use would dwarf all the Kyoto emissions agreements even if the USA joins the agreement.

I do not know anyone who says that the two billion of the worlds poorest should not improve their standard of living up to ours. China only has a fraction of the worlds poorest. If everyone used energy at the rate we use it in Europe the world potential for energy use would be over four times the present level. There is no moral argument for Europe to continue its present use while the rest of the world shows restraint.

This brings me back to Ryedale. Unless we reduce our use of cars, central heating and other energy uses we will be followed by the underdeveloped world. If/when they follow any doubts about climate change will disappear. It will be a certainty.

The cost to the UK and Ryedale with its dependence on the environment will be enormous. Life as we know it may not continue. The cost of reducing our energy use now will seem like the premium on an insurance policy. A premium we did not pay. We will wish that at the beginning of the 21st century someone had taken out the policy. The government seems unlikely to act. Car use is going up, motorways are being built or widened, public transport is slipping into a deplorable state and airports are being expanded so as to cater for endless overseas holidays and strawberries in January.

We live in an area at the wealthier end of the global scale. Ryedale must set an example. How do we cut down our energy use? How do we give a lead? If we don’t reduce soon and the rest of the world follows our lead not only will we have to reduce but also cope with the results of climate change.

The flooding in Norton was almost certainly the result of climate change itself caused by Global Warming. I’m not sure of the solution but I am sure that waiting for a “crisis” worse than the flooding in Norton is not the solution.

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