As we come to the end of another year, it’s worth reflecting on what the really big problems are that face us and what part we can play in solving them. In my view, there is one such problem that far outweighs all the others: climate change.
During December, we’ve again seen terrible floods, this time in the north of England. The increasing frequency of such ‘once in a lifetime’ events should make us all realise that our climate is changing. While there may be ‘natural’ factors, the evidence that such changes result from human intervention is overwhelming. The planet is getting warmer, and it’s not good news for any of us.
The international climate change agreement reached in Paris was a big step forward, but implementing it will be another matter, and will require big commitments and difficult decisions. Our government needs to scale back the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation and support renewable energy, as well as doing much more to encourage low-carbon industry and transport. Councils, businesses, voluntary organisations and all of us as individuals will need to make governments stick to the Paris agreement, and cut carbon dioxide emissions dramatically.
Keeping in mind the ‘think globally, act locally’ principle, there is plenty we can do in Hastings too. As a significant local land and property owner, the council has the potential to generate energy from renewable resources. That can be controversial - covering Hastings Country Park with solar panels would generate a significant amount of ‘green’ electricity, but would, I suspect, not be popular. But there are other places they could be installed less controversially. Using electric vehicles is another step the council can, and will take - a small contribution, but it helps to set an example. Then there’s improved waste recycling and re-use, reducing energy consumption, planting schemes that maximise carbon capture, promoting environmentally-friendly businesses, and more besides.
Other local decisions are inevitably controversial in terms of their impact on climate change. The new link road and proposed Queensway Gateway, it has been argued, will increase traffic levels, contributing to climate change. Personally, I think it’s more likely that improvements to traffic flows will shorten journey times and so reduce the climate change impacts, but it illustrates how strategies to reduce climate change are not always clear-cut.
And there’s plenty we can do as individuals. Air travel is a major contributor to climate change - so don’t fly (I gave it up years ago). Buy your electricity from a supplier that generates from renewables. Recycle everything you can, do home composting, drive an electric car, walk short journeys or get a bicycle, buy food grown locally, eat less meat, grow your own vegetables, don’t buy new stuff when you don’t need it, if you own your own home make sure it’s energy efficient ... and so on. Most of us know about all this already, but it’s the collective action of us all as individuals that will make the difference.
The impact of our actions to reduce, and hopefully reverse, climate change will not happen overnight. But this is about the future world we leave to the next generations, guaranteeing environmental sustainability for our children’s children. And that has to be worth doing, for all of us, individually and collectively. Let’s make 2016 the year when we all begin to make a difference.