Ryeview – July 2004

John Clark writes…

First published: July 2004

For tens of thousands of years humans lived as part of nature. For hundreds of years we have tried to conquer nature – many believe we have won or are at least winning. Within the next few tens of years nature is going to get her own back. This ‘revenge’ doesn’t look as though it will be a short term drought or a plague of locusts. It is likely to be far more serious. We are changing the balance between carbon in the atmosphere and carbon trapped within the surface of the earth.

A few years ago ‘scientists’ didn’t all agree about climate change and even less did they agree about the consequences. Present disagreements are now almost limited to how severe it will be. The options range from hundreds of thousands of deaths per year through to much worse.
World wide, the politicians vary in their degrees of ‘denial’. George Bush and others believe its not really happening. The world can go on digging for oil and using it as if it were limitless. Others believe that whatever we do there will be a techno fix. In the UK the government believes that “climate change is the predominant global environmental issue…” Mrs Beckett goes on to say that “countries do not have to choose between their environmental and economic aspirations…..they can be compatible”.

This is worse than the George W position. Economic growth is the cause of the problem. Increased economic activity has so far increased greenhouse gas emissions. This leads to climate change. Even riding a bicycle produces CO2. It’s a vast reduction compared with public transport and an even greater reduction compared with a gas-guzzling 4 by 4.

The government has set a target to reduce CO2 levels by 20% from the 1990 levels by 2010. To achieve this will hurt. We must decrease our activities. We will need to reduce some of our economic activities. To say anything short of this is ‘dishonest’ and will result in the need to ‘cut back’ even further at a later date. Much more painful, less effective and maybe too late.

So at the time when the UK’s ‘top scientist’ is warning of melting ice wiping out London, how is the government doing? Recent government figures show that greenhouse gas emissions from transport were 47% higher in 2002 than 1990. Greenhouse gas emissions from households and private vehicles were 62.8million tonnes in 2002, a 6% increase on the 59.2 million tonnes in 1990. The Fuel Escalator was designed so that the price of fuel grew faster than inflation. Yes it hurt. Yes we didn’t like it. It was scrapped. What have we got in its place? – nothing. Going down Mrs Beckett’s line of carrying on in economic growth and more fossil fuel use will not work. The bull or the nettle will have to be taken or grasped at some point.

The belief we can protect our environment and have economic growth has become enshrined in the governments’ belief in ‘sustainable development’. This, in theory, is taking into account economic growth, social inclusion and the environment all at the same time. This is cake and eat it. It shouldn’t be a surprise when the cake runs out. Compare this with the other definition of sustainable development:
“meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

‘Denial’ flourishes in Ryedale. The North York Moors National Park has its own definition for sustainable development: “sustainable development is about ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for future generations.” No mention of the environment, no mention of the planet. It’s just homo sapiens orientated. They follow this up with a definition of sustainable. “Sustainable means that something is viable and can be continued in the long term in ways that do not harm people but benefit them.”

Important though humans are from their position in the natural order of things they are not more important than all the rest combined. The human ecological niche depends on the natural world. Something needs to change in the NYMNP. The present policies are:

  • Ever increasing numbers of cars coming to ‘sustainable’ cycle centres
  • Gas-guzzling 4 by 4’s or overseas visitors coming to take part in eco-tourism.

These policies contribute to the destruction of our planet. This of course includes the immensely beautiful North York Moors.

Finally to Ryedale District Council. A couple of weeks ago the Community Services Committee thought it would be a good idea to pop £50,000 (1½% increase on the Council Tax) into the management of a few schemes already costing tax payers £10million. All this will increase the traffic levels, the need for road building, the greenhouse gas emissions…

We need to develop an approach of ‘instead of’ not the present one of ‘as well as’. If we adopt the ‘instead of’ philosophy for each new scheme we could ensure that there were less greenhouse gas emissions than the one it was replacing. This would of course produce a reduction in the total damage done. Not only would this constitute towards the government’s targets it would help save our planet.

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