Get real on 'climate catastrophe', chemists tell Government

24 July 2008

The Government needs to abandon the weak and inappropriate expression 'global warming' because it does not sound like dreadful news to most people, says the chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Instead, says Richard Pike, it should employ and encourage the more accurate expression "climate catastrophe" to reflect the reality facing this and coming generations.

"We live in a country where much of the population regards the sun and heat as welcome, so why should predictions of global warming immediately strike people as nasty and something to be avoided?"

Dr Pike added that the government had broken the three fundamental rules for managing technological and social change linked to rising carbon dioxide levels, and must radically revise its domestic and international strategies to avert disaster. 

"Experience shows world-wide that to bring about change there needs to be extreme dissatisfaction with the current situation (or its later consequences), a vision for the future, and clarity on the proposed short-term steps to achieve this. If any one of these components is missing, the change programme is doomed. The government has failed on all three counts.

"Even the term 'global warming' conjures up a gradual, gentle process, in which we are becoming a generation of armchair analysts expecting others to tackle the real problems many decades into the future. In contrast, today's teenagers must be taught the truth about the impending 'climate catastrophe' awaiting them. Within their working lifetime, unless global action is taken now, there will be food and water shortages, flooding, mass migrations of people and animals, possibly a billion deaths and dislocation of societies and businesses across the world. No-one could view passively such an outcome."

He said that the vision being painted for society was hazy and contradictory. 

"Oil and gas will be available in large volumes well into the next century and coal for many hundreds of years. Energy companies continue to promote a hydrocarbon future, but the reality is that the 80% global dependence on fossil fuels must be more than halved within the next forty years for us to have any chance of mitigating the worst consequences of the industrial revolution. There has to be a picture where hydrocarbon use is globally constrained, unless coupled with carbon dioxide sequestration, and energy provision draws massively on sustainable renewables and nuclear power stations.

"If that is the way ahead, there has to be the commitment to deliver all that this involves. Instead, there continues to be undue emphasis on trivial solutions at the energy user end, and few initiatives at the provider end. We are encouraged to wash clothes at lower temperatures, pump up car tyres to the correct pressure, and save energy as though collectively every little helps. It does, but this approach will have virtually no material impact on our addressing the root cause of the problem. That will only come about through tough decisions - now - on numerous carbon capture and storage projects, massive arrays of solar devices, wind and tidal turbine farms, geothermal devices, and the prioritisation on the science, social consequences, and funding to support this.

"The recent G-8 meeting in Japan showed that the UK is not alone in dithering. We have the skills and experience, nevertheless, within the wider population to take a decisive lead. 

"And a change in language would sharpen the minds of those who will eventually see this through, and will shoulder the responsibility of success or failure in the middle of the 21st century."

Contact and Further Information

Press Office
Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA
Tel: +44 (0)1223 432294
Fax: +44 (0)1223 426594