Trivial initiatives worsening the dangers of climate change
04 June 2008
Britain has become dangerously preoccupied with a raft of minor, almost trivial energy-saving initiatives, rather than addressing the big issue, which is how to reduce massively the 80% global dependence on fossil fuels for power, heating and transport, the chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry said last night.
Speaking at a public meeting in Shetland, Richard Pike said that the beneficial effects of turning off standby lights, switching from bottled to tap water, washing clothes at a lower temperature, or having car tyres at the right air pressure, paled into insignificance when compared with what was happening at the supply end of energy provision.
Dr Pike claims that even halving carbon dioxide emissions for road vehicles in the UK would reduce the carbon footprint of the country by only about 6%, because other modes of transport (air, sea and rail), industrial and domestic heating, and electricity generation have such high energy demands, relying largely on oil, gas and coal.
He said yesterday: "While these initiatives are easy to grasp, and give individuals the satisfaction that they are playing a role in mitigating the effects of climate change, the reality is that even if the UK were completely carbon-neutral, the 80% world figure would fall to just 78%."
Dr Pike said that it was essential that a workable international fiscal and regulatory framework was established to reduce the use of fossil fuels world-wide, and mitigate their continuing long-term impact through carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Present plans for carbon trading to reduce emissions, relying on market forces, were highly dubious, he said, because of the lack of authentication of actual carbon savings from individual so-called 'green' projects.
Governments need, he said, to act more decisively to promote reliable low-carbon, alternative energy sources on a massive scale.
"It is incongruous that some oil and gas companies see global warming, and melting of the Arctic permafrost, as an opportunity to drill for still more hydrocarbons. Equally bizarre has been the recent move of some major oil-producing countries to burn cheap, imported coal for electricity generation, rather than using their indigenous natural gas. This is because the gas can be re-injected, more profitably, into petroleum reservoirs to boost oil production at its current stratospheric price."
He added: "Since the burning of coal, energy-for-energy, yields twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas, increased emissions in this way are yet another unintended consequence of high oil prices!"
Dr Pike likened Shetland to a unique microcosm of the world energy picture, with the presence of Europe's largest oil and gas processing facilities, wave energy devices for generating hydrogen through electrolysis of water for road vehicles, wind turbines, solar cells, peat-based biomass, and strong tidal currents that one day might be harnessed for power. Nuclear facilities also lay just to the south on the Scottish mainland.
A key element in making progress lay, he said, in having the UK population better informed, both quantitatively and qualitatively, of energy processes and their life cycle characteristics, efficiencies and costs, advantages and disadvantages, and wider consequences.
Much decision-making is still ill-informed, and this needs to be addressed through better education and wider public debate. The prosperity of the country, and the way we engage with the rest of the world, depends on such leadership.
Richard Pike was quoted at length on the priorities in combating climate change in the websites of today's Mail and Telegraph newspapers following his appearance in Shetland.
Richard Pike comments on energy saving
UK needs to address the big issues, says RSC
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