Energy priorities

Independent, 10 April 1995:

To read the contribution from the chief executive of the Electricity Association (Letters, 1 April), one would think that the problem of global warming can be left safely in the hands of a privatised electricity supply industry. Nothing could be further from the truth. A reduction in carbon dioxide emissions has been achieved fortuitously by burning gas instead of coal, but this was done for commercial reasons and not for any environmental benefit. Market forces could easily change in the opposite direction over the coming decade.

It needs to be remembered that the industry was privatised without any commitment whatsoever to improve energy efficiency. Instead, the Government set up an Energy Savings Trust under the chairmanship of John Moore, with an initial budget of just £6m per annum and strong representation from both gas and electricity companies. Two schemes for saving energy have been blocked by the Gas Regulator, while the Electricity Regulator has allowed a ludicrously small expenditure for efficiency measures, of just £l per customer per year. These figures should be set against the combined profit of £l.24bn and £4.67bn for the gas and electricity companies respectively for the year 1994-95.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
London SE1

Global warming a fact despite imprecision

Financial Times, 5 April 1995:

Mr Turundi (Letters March 30) claims that the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries is “not trying to sabotage the Berlin conference on climate change”, but then goes on to state that there is doubt about the science of global warming.  I am not sure what “independent” research and forecasts Mr Turndi is referring to, but he must recognise that the scientific reports produced by the inter-governmental panel on climate change represent the consensus view of the scientific community worldwide.  He should also realise that global warming is not just a theory: it is the inevitable consequence of releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and depends upon world population, the increasing demand for energy and the burning of forests to free land for cultivation.

There may be legitimate doubt about the speed of this process, and whether one can attribute current freak weather conditions to the effect of global warming, but one cannot deny that it is happening.  The last decade saw eight of the 10 hottest years this century and current temperature  trends match predictions precisely.

Any scientific discovery which impinges upon established industrial practices will generate criticism, and opposition can be expected from those companies and, indeed, those countries which profit from the burning of fossil fuels.  But no one should be deceived by their position or believe that the science of global warming is so uncertain that remedial measures can be postponed indefinitely

Robin Russell-Jones,
St Thomas’ Hospital
Lambeth Palace Road
London SE1 7EH


Too hot to handle

The Guardian, 5 April 1995:

Last week the international community met in Berlin to determine what further measures are needed to combat global warming. On Thursday it was announced that ozone depletion over the northern hemisphere has reached a record low due to high levels of chlorine monoxide and low temperatures in the stratosphere. These two issues are closely linked. They are both worsening atmospheric casualties of man’s industrial activities, and they are both preventable.

Indeed the CFCs that destroy ozone are also potent greenhouse gases. Warming of the lower atmosphere leads to cooling of the stratosphere, the formation of polar stratospheric clouds and accelerated ozone loss. To those who ask: “Which is the most important environmental issue?” They are both issues of critical importance to our Society.

However society’s response could not be more different. Whilst the causes and remedies for ozone depletion are widely recognised, there is an extraordinary reluctance to accept the implications of climate change.

Newspaper editors either ignore the issue altogether, or ask journalists such as Matt Ridley and Richard North who are making a career out of criticising the environmental movement and who write articles which seem unbelievably complacent about the effects of global warming.

The Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and the Today newspaper carried no coverage whatsoever. Only a brief mention appeared in the Daily Telegraph and nothing in the Times. However the Times had published a scientifically confused article by Matt Ridley (March 25), and a further piece on March 27 which cast doubt on the reliability of temperature measurements! The Independent had also published a fatuous article by its economic correspondent stating that the solution global warming was to ignore it, get rich and then pay for the consequences.  At least the Independent allowed the chairman of Friends of the Earth to reply (March 29).

Only the Guardian and the Financial Times demonstrated a coherent policy towards the issue. Several articles appeared in both papers, but perhaps the most surprising was an FT piece on the response of insurance companies to climate change (March 31). The world’s six largest storm catastrophes between 1987 and 1993 cost the insurance sector $36 billion in compensation. By setting premiums according to customer’s environmental record, the insurance companies hope to influence industrial practice in a way that governments seem unwilling to do. A further article on this theme appeared in the Sunday Telegraph: “Bank catch a chill on global warming”. How revealing that the most conservative of institutions should the ones to take global warming seriously.

During the four days that five newspapers could not find space for any mention of global warming ozone depletion, those same papers devoted 163 to pages to sport and an incredible 19 pages to the funeral of Ronnie Kray. Do people think that the burial of a malevolent old gangster from the East End is of greater importance than the integrity of the ecosystems that sustain life on this planet?