On The (Rail)Road – Part I

“You’re going to Iowa on a TRAIN?” was the common response when I announced my plans for Thanksgiving break to my fellow students.  “Three trains, with stop-offs in DC and Chicago,” I corrected them.  “But that’ll take forever!  And the trains will break down!  And it’ll be winter so they’ll be even more likely to break down, probably, and if the train breaks down there’ll be snow everywhere!”

I had to admit that Amtrak, the rail company, did not have a great reputation.  But I was determined to give it the benefit of the doubt, in the land where the automobile is king.  I was concerned about the ballooning carbon footprint that comes with the transatlantic lifestyle.  I find airports a hassle.  It wasn’t any more expensive to get the train.  And after three months of library-bound Ivy League life, I was ready to “see America”, meet some of these “Real Americans” that politicians here go on about all the time – apparently Yalies don’t count.

I left New Haven in the pre-Thanksgiving rush on Sunday morning, piling into Union Station with throngs of other students off to see their families for the week.  I’d managed to fit everything in my rucksack, and my only concern was that the fruit cake I’d baked for my friend’s family would survive the 1,200-mile journey to Iowa City.  I’d wrapped it in newspaper and put it in a shoe-box stuffed with clothes for padding.

My first train-neighbour was a dear old lady off to see her son and daughter-in-law. “They’re both doctors”.  She was one of those talkative people, who asks you questions but then doesn’t give you much of a chance to answer.  “Where are you headed?” “Iowa.”  “What?” – she was a little deaf.  Or didn’t think anyone would be taking the train to Iowa from New Haven.  “Iowa.”  “Ah. I love farmland.  Some of it’s beautiful. [Pause]  It was very hard for the English people, they were used to everything being all squashed together.  Then they came here, and it was difficult for the women.  Sometimes they’d go for days without seeing another white face.” “Hmm.” I wasn’t sure if she meant they’d only seen Indians, or that they hadn’t seen anyone at all.  “Strong people, in Iowa.” “Mm.”  I went off to find a cup of tea in the cafe car – the Dunkin’ Donuts queue at the station had been too long.

The Amtrak cafe cars are wonderful.  They have booths to sit in, and tables you can fit four people round.  The longer-distance double-decker trains have a sight-seeing lounge on the top floor, with huge windows, dark-brown plywood panelling at the end of the carriage, and comfy seats of dark blue leather.  I spent a lot of time there, feeling as if I was in another age – except for the cardboard sleeves for the cups, which under the Amtrak logo read “Rail Consumes Less Energy Than Car or Air Travel”, reminding me I haven’t in fact slipped through a time-window into the mid-twentieth century.

I had an hour and a half to spend in Washington DC, so after “detraining”, I headed straight out the station and gazed about, wondering where to go.  Behind a stone memorial to Columbus (“whose high faith and indomitable courage gave to mankind a new world” – not sure they consulted the Native Indians on that one) I spied a domed roof at the top of a slope and, West Wing knowledge kicking in, realised it was the Capitol building.  I joined the Sunday afternoon tourists taking photos of the famous cupola, passed the Supreme Court with its motto of “Equal Justice Under Law”, admired the stately trees dotting Olmsted’s lawns, then boarded the 2pm sleeper train to Chicago.


Future generations philanthropy

Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer has set up a ‘Center for the Next Generation‘, announced the biz section in this morning’s New York Times.  As far as wealthy Americans go, this guy has good credentials: he gave $5 million to the California campaign to stop ‘Proposition 23’ – a vote that would have rolled back the state’s greenhouse gas emissions cuts programme.  This Center – described as a non-partisan ‘nonprofit organisation that aims to be a loud voice in major public policy debates’ – sounds like a worthy endeavour, and my first thought was “Hooray! Someone fighting the good fight.”

But then I got this image in my mind of political debate as essentially a war of the titans – a battle between millionaires, with Tom Steyer on one side and the Koch brothers (famous for using their billions to undermine environmental legislation, trade unions, Obama’s healthcare reforms, among other terrors) on the other.  And I felt a bit left out.

Is it right to depend on a former hedge fund manager’s goodwill to ensure future generations’ needs are considered in public decision-making?  Can we be proud of a modern democracy that responds to big wads of cash and big advertising campaigns, no matter who they’re wielded by?  It feels less like ‘one person, one vote’, and more like ‘one rich person, as many votes as you can buy’.

I’d feel better if future generations and children were better-represented within the institutions of government, with a formal procedure for taking their needs into account when making decisions.  Hungary has a Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations, supported by a line in its constitution that enshrines the right to a healthy environment.  WWF-UK and the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development have done some interesting work on governance options in this area – see Peter Roderick’s informative document on Taking the Longer View.

We shouldn’t be protecting the interests of future generations because a few wealthy individuals think it’s a good idea.  Quite apart from the moral reasoning (we should be doing it because human beings have an obligation to leave the world a better place for the people who come after us),  in a battle of funds, those who benefit from the fossil-fuelled status quo have the odds stacked in their favour.

I am very glad the Center for the Next Generation exists, because it will add a much-needed counterweight to the campaigns against the public interest waged by Koch brothers and co.  But I’m not sure we should call this democracy.

Going green IS getting somewhere

I’m not writing this because the green agenda has made any particular leap forward recently, but as a riposte to an op-ed in the New York Times that leaves you with the impression that all your efforts to ‘go green’ have been, and will continue to be, futile.  The op-ed, by economist Gernot Wagner from the Environmental Defense Fund (which advocates market-based solutions to environmental problems), argues that the ‘changes necessary [to protect rainforests, stop climate change etc] are so large and profound that they are beyond the reach of individual action’.  And although he’s careful to say at the end: ‘Don’t stop recycling. Don’t stop buying local’ – the tone of his article is incredibly negative and dismissive of individuals’ attempts to green their lifestyles, and leaves you feeling as if you may as well give up now.

One of Wagner’s key points, which I agree with, is that currently we citizens all pick up the bill for businesses’ environmental mess-ups, and we need a regulatory system that ‘compels us to pay our fair share to limit pollution accordingly’.  But I’m flummoxed by his curious claim that the result of the current way of working is ‘planetary socialism’.  There’s nothing egalitarian about allowing wider society to pay for the cost of irresponsible polluting industries while the latter accrue most of the benefits.

The main point of his argument – that there’s no point in individuals’ efforts to reduce their personal emissions – is way too pessimistic and unhelpful.  Rather, increasing consumer trends towards buying more green products sends signals to politicians and businesses that lower environmental impact is something the public wants.  And yes, just one person doing it by themselves won’t have a huge direct impact, but they’ll have a considerable indirect impact by contributing to changing social norms, whose force should not be underestimated.  Although changes happen painfully slowly, there have been profound alterations in the way we (governments, businesses, NGOs and individuals) manage our relationship with the biosphere over the past few decades, prompted by increased environmental awareness.

We obviously need to change the economics, and the government needs to show more leadership in this arena (e.g. by letting the Green Investment Bank start borrowing right away, rather than in 2015), but we shouldn’t dismiss the importance of personal action: both for creating a sense of a shared undertaking, and for effecting measurable changes.  A particularly annoying thing about the op-ed is that Wagner slags off personal carbon savings without providing a concrete alternative except to ‘learn some basic economics’.  It doesn’t fill me with a ‘get up and go’ mentality.  I’d be more sympathetic towards his article if he’d told people to put pressure on their elected representatives to get the UK’s Energy Bill fit for purpose, or switch their bank accounts to ones that don’t invest in Canadian tar sands, or change their electricity tariffs to ones that invest in renewables.  Or even to join the September 24th global day of action to demand we move beyond fossil fuels.

It was written for a US audience, and maybe I’m exhibiting an excessive amount of British optimism (sounds almost oxymoronic doesn’t it) given the relatively – relatively – healthy state of our environmental politics compared with the US.  As one of my professors said the other day (and I apologise that I’m not yet able to comment on this), national green energy policy in the US has achieved almost nothing.  Whereas in the UK, we’ve built more offshore wind turbines than any other country, according to the European Wind Energy Association [I need to be careful here – a side-effect of living in the US is that you start thinking that EU and British environmental policies aren’t that bad after all, which ain’t necessarily so].

But there is some truth in the oft-repeated Gandhi quote that you should “Be the change you want to see in the world”.  If you’re not rejecting plastic bags in favour of the sturdier and longer-lived versions, what grounds do you have for persuading anyone else to do the same?  How can you expect others to take the environment seriously if you’re not walking your talk?  It’s also a matter of personal conscience, which, although probably seen as irrelevant by economist Wagner, is something to be valued and nurtured.  Some of us need to compensate for its apparent absence in many of our public figures today.  American plastic-bag-reducers can feel good in the knowledge they won’t be adding anything more to the 100 million ton plastic bag soup currently drifting across the north Pacific.  Feeling good is important!

Here comes the story of a hurricane…

New Haven is turning out to be quite a dramatic place so far.  Last Tuesday, I was working at my desk when suddenly my chair started wobbling, and then my desk started wobbling, and then it felt like my entire 6th-floor room was wobbling.  I thought my head had gone funny, but realised it was an earthquake.  A very calm, elegant one as earthquakes go: shaken by a few seconds of strangeness and then back to normal – except I was left feeling awed by the fact that the earth had moved underneath me, and had an unusual sense of the epic scale of our planet, the vastness of this rock on which we wander around from shop to shop and fret about which classes to choose.

Now it’s not the earth moving but the air, howling through the streets, with gusts every now and then that shriek as if with delight.  A Category I hurricane has sustained winds of around 75mph: imagine zooming down a motorway and sticking your head out of the car window.  Hurricane Irene has been downgraded to a tropical storm, which is still impressive because at 41 degrees North of the equator we’re well out of the tropics.  But from the safety of my room, it just feels like I’m back in Edale on a typical summer’s day.

The rain began last night and is still puddling the streets, though there’s no sign of flooding near me.  All the shops here are shut and there’s no public transport, although from my window I did see one brave soul battling down the road on his bicycle.  We’ve been advised not to leave our buildings until given the all-clear by the Yale Alert system, and luckily we still have electricity on campus, though 700,000 houses across Connecticut are without power.  Apparently hurricanes are usually followed by a heat wave, so I feel for the people who won’t be able to cool down their homes with air con.

As well as giving us packages of food to last us through the day, Davenport College gave us a really good low-down on how hurricanes work (which I’ve supplemented here with info from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), which delighted the geographer in me!  ‘Hurricane’ is the name given to tropical cyclones in the Atlantic; elsewhere, it’s called a typhoon.  To form, it needs warm sea surface temperatures of more than 26 degrees C, because below this temperature, the atmosphere is relatively stable so you don’t get strong enough upwards convection.  Moisture evaporates from the ocean surface; warm air rises and as it rises it cools, so the moisture condenses into water droplets.  This condensation process releases energy, which drives the circulation of the cyclone.

As soon as a hurricane moves over cooler waters, or moves over land, it loses the driving power of the warm water, so starts to calm down (as this map demonstrates).  Irene has got so far north because along the USA’s east coast runs the Gulf Stream, which transports warm water from the Gulf of Mexico northwards.  In the northern hemisphere, hurricanes spin in an anti-clockwise direction, so the winds pile up the seawater on the eastern side of the storm and can cause a storm surge, which is why they were worried about serious flooding in New York City.  Apparently in New Haven we’re protected from storm surges by Long Island, which has borne the brunt of the weather.

Lastly, tropical cyclone scientists cannot yet say whether or not hurricanes are getting stronger and more frequent due to climate change.  It’s hard to make out long-term trends with the evidence currently available, so they can’t draw firm conclusions.  But they point out that it is likely that as tropical sea surface temperatures increase, cyclones will have higher peak wind speeds and rainfall.  And as sea levels rise, the risk of storm surges will be amplified.

New Haven, CT: the university and the ghetto

Within a few minutes of alighting from the train at New Haven’s Union Station, I was already having a conversation about the city’s high crime rate.  The taxi driver was gesturing vaguely with his arm towards the dodgy areas of town, before telling me I’d be fine where I’m living.  The Tenant Manual I found in my room has a detailed explanation of the various security services offered by Yale University: it has its own Police Department; 400 blue phones with red emergency buttons are ‘strategically located throughout the campus’; and at night, you can request a police escort to walk or drive you home.

Founded in 1637 as a Puritan colony, New Haven grew into a port city and later developed a strong industry producing coaches, carraiges, watches, tools, and firearms [1].  But its industrial base began to decline in the early 20th century, hit by the Great Depression and the fact that automobiles became trendier than horse-drawn carraiges.  It’s now the fourth-poorest city in the US, despite its location in the richest state, Connecticut, home of a disproportionate amount of millionaires [2].

Yale University is now the city’s largest employer.  But even with an endowment worth $16.7 billion [3], it won’t pay a living wage to its employees [4].  And it doesn’t pay property tax.  Private universities in the US get tax exemptions – effectively a state subsidy.  As Professor Bill Domhoff argues [5], it would be understandable if these subsidies benefitted local youngsters who’d be able to use their education to better their struggling communities.  But the people attending Yale tend to be well-off students from across the US and abroad.  So the New Haven public purse is subsidising my education, while a quarter of its residents live in poverty [6].

It was quite surreal being guided round the facilities on offer within the faux-Oxbridge walls of Davenport College, where I live.  We may not be able to afford a living wage for our cleaners, but thankfully the purse can stretch to a printing press, bookbinding studio, digital media and arts centre, pottery studio, 72-seat auditorium, and a common room housing not one, but two grand pianos.

Is enlightenment really that expensive?

A Small A.Mount in America

Hours of painstaking deliberation, complemented by in-depth audience research in the form of a survey in the bathroom during my going-away party, have led to the conservative but, I think, wise decision to let my blog’s name remain as ‘A Small A. Mount’.

There were some strong contenders for the title.  ‘Amy Oh My’ was an amusing suggestion, though ultimately perhaps too frivolous as a heading for my serious reflections on the future of the Earth and its inhabitants.  ‘The Sermon of the Mount’ scored highly, largely due to the persistence of its author, and while it has a nice ring to it, I worry I might come across as a little… preachy.

Variations on the A.Mount theme were many; the most popular were ‘A Significant A.Mount’ and ‘A Considerable A.Mount’.  Worthy candidates too, but I couldn’t help feeling that A Small A.Mount was just so fitting.  I am still, and suspect always will be, petite in stature; and even though I was concerned this title might come across as somewhat diminutive, I was swayed once again by the initial explanation for this blog’s title.

Moving to a new continent does demand some sort of recognition, however, so I have revamped the design and provided a new title photo, which I would like you to consider with me now.  Mount[ain]s in the mist, or at least hills.  Under the cloud is Edale, my home village, which is still there, even though I can’t see it from this side of the Atlantic.  Above the cloud: blue sky, a good place for idea-gazing – not always, but from time to time – as often as you see it in Edale, say.

You can only see the tops of the hills (Back Tor, Lose Hill, Win Hill, I think), but it’s surprising how often what feels like just a small amount can turn out to be something much bigger.  Sometimes you feel as if all your efforts are only making a small amount of difference, but then you find yourself in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, advising Ed Miliband’s adviser on how to communicate about climate change.  Or you write a few words of a blog and begin a Twitter-storm that puts pressure on Downing St and helps to keep the Climate Minister at the UN climate negotiations, where he’s got an important job to do.

Lastly, it appears that Ivy League life can be hectic at the best of times, so it’s likely I’ll only have a small amount of time for blogging.  But this is where I’ll scribble some insights into what I’m thinking about climate change, politics, the US elections, and being an English girl in New Haven.

Spelman’s schemes lack sanity

On Thursday 22nd July, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced she was “reforming” the organisations linked to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).  This includes stopping the government funds to the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), and abolishing the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP).

You may feel indifferent to the loss of a few acronymed organisations from the alphabet soup of government offices and quangos.  But this is not just a matter of neatening up operations, making DEFRA – what was it? –  a “leaner, stronger department”, according to the press release rattled off by their propaganda officer.  This is a big mistake.

Jonathan Porritt, who used to head up the SDC, has eloquently described how Spelman’s schemes lack sanity.  Her arguments for stopping funding the SDC don’t even hold up according to her own objectives – for example, a recent SDC report shows that work on sustainable development by the previous administration have saved £60-70m a year.  That towers over the piddling £4m a year it costs to run the SDC.

The RCEP is a less well-known body, but its disappearance is a blow to the UK.  Since 1970, its reports have consistently provided carefully thought-out, wise guidance to government on a diverse range of environmental issues.  The 1983 report on lead caused an immediate u-turn in government policy by pointing out the dangers of having lead in petrol.   The report on nuclear energy way back in 1976 created the “Flowers Criterion” – that it is unwise to build new nuclear power stations until safe and reliable methods have been devised to deal with nuclear waste – and this is still hugely relevant today. The 2000 report on energy suggested a target of 60% emissions reductions by 2050 and was an important driver towards the Climate Change Act of 2008.

For 40 years a source of well-respected and independent advice, the longest-lived body of its kind in the world – until, with a few words and a wave of her wand, Spelman abolished it.  Apparently she can take care of making sure the coalition government is “the greenest government ever”.

No – really – listen to her own words: “Together with Chris Huhne I am determined to play the lead role in driving the sustainability agenda across the whole of government and I am not willing to delegate this responsibility to an external body.”

They’ve learnt how to be green now – got it down pat.  Good luck with that, Caroline.   I find it hard to believe you are the intellectual equivalent of the sum of all the brains who used to sit on the RCEP – Cambridge professors and the like – and its institutional memory.  Your actions so far suggest to me words such as “idiotic” rather than “intelligent”.

While ever-greater chunks are cut out of our public services and independent voices like the SDC and RCEP are silenced (except corporate lobbyists – I think they’re still fine), the banks the tax-payers bailed out pay dividends to the bloated balances of their chief executives.

Here’s an idea – and it isn’t mine.   The Robin Hood Tax campaign is suggesting a “tiny tax on bankers that would give billions to tackle poverty and climate change, here and abroad”.   It’s a bit like steal from the rich, give to the poor – except it’s not really stealing if you’re just claiming back what was taken from you in the first place.   The tax could be as little as 0.005% – but because of the masses of financial transactions that take place, it could raise hundreds of billions of pounds every year.  Think what we could do with that money – protect public services in the UK, invest in poverty reduction in the Global South, and provide finance for poorer countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

But Robin Hood didn’t do all that legendary redistribution of wealth by himself.  He had a band of merry men.  Right now, civil society needs to band together too and fight back against the future-blind policies of the Sheriff of Nottingham – I mean the coalition government.

Cucumber sandwiches and ginger beer at Heathrow’s Terminal 1

As Elly and I were standing on the Picadilly Line platform at King’s Cross yesterday evening, we were eyeing up a couple of young people sitting on a bench nearby, thinking “Are they going the same place as us…?”  Then a guy with a guitar walked past and Elly exclaimed “Theo!” just as the other girl said “Theo!”

Turned out we were all on our way to Heathrow Terminal 1.  At first thought, it doesn’t seem the most appealing place to spend your Monday night, but yesterday evening saw the place transformed.  In the main atrium there was a huge picnic.  Hundreds of people were milling around, listening to the string quartet, playing parachute games, singing songs, and having a jolly respectable evening, to demonstrate against the proposed third runway Heathrow’s managers want to build.  The crowd of people included local residents whose quality of life would go down considerably, were a third runway to be built.  There were also loads of young people and environmental campaigners, and the local Labour MP.

The enormous, high-viz police presence was slightly intimidating at first, but didn’t manage to dilute the cheerful atmosphere of the event.  The feeling of festivity was added to by people’s dress: we’d all donned Edwardian costumes.  Climate Rush, mainly-female organisers of the picnic, wanted to draw parallels between the suffragette’s struggles 100 or so years ago, and the struggles to defend the environment on which we all depend today.

The announcement over the runway is expected this Thursday, by Geoff Hoon the Cabinet’s Transport guy.  The Conservative Party have already said they would not not let it go ahead if they get elected, and neither would the Lib Dems.  And many Labour MPs are against it too.  Some are pushing for the issue to come to parliamentary vote.

Want to see more?  Go to the BBC website, where there’s a video – featuring yours truly.  There’s also a write-up on the Guardian website.

Promising noises


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We all know that talking is one thing and doing is another thing – but it is encouraging when politicians start talking sense, because that makes it seem more likely they’ll start doing sensible things.

There’s an interview with Prime Minister Gordon Brown in today’s Observer, in which he unveils a plan to invest public money in projects that should create 100,000 jobs in the UK, to try and beat back the economic recession.  Importantly, he goes on to define what kind of jobs these will be.  According to the Observer,

“School repairs, new rail links, hospital projects and plans to usher in a new digital age by investing in superfast broadband will be used to keep unemployment down. The plans will also be used to tackle climate change, by means of investments in eco-friendly projects such as electric cars and wind and wave power that would also create jobs.”

Sounds like Gordon has caught onto the idea of creating a low-carbon economy.  Good stuff!

This kind of thing was talked about a lot while I was at the UN climate negotiations in Poznan.  Rather than letting the financial crisis push environmental concerns to one side, there’s actually an exciting opportunity presented to us.  It’s a chance to take stock of where we’re at.  Climate change is not just a problem with the physical world.  Climate change is happening because of the way our economies are structured, especially the dependence on fossil fuels.  Investing in clean technologies and renewable energy supplies is a step in the right direction if we’re going to get to grips with this problem.

So, good work, Gordon – just don’t let that huge, CO2-belching coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth get the go-ahead, will you?  Because that would suggest to us that you are, after all, just making New Year resolutions that you can’t be bothered to uphold.

A letter from one of my UKIP MEPs… and my response

Dear Ms Mount

Thank you for your email dated 23rd November 2008, addressed to Jeffrey Titford MEP.  Mr Titford has asked me to reply on his behalf.

Mr Titford has carefully noted what you have to say about climate change and your request that he support a drastic cut in carbon emissions by 2020.  However, he believes that such targets are impossible to meet and are based on what is essentially a false premise.

The idea that manmade carbon emissions are entirely responsible for global warming is highly debatable and is based on questionable and selective scientific data backed up by political dogma.  We have almost reached a point where anyone who dares challenge this orthodoxy is branded a heretic.  Moreover, a drastic cut, such as you suggest, would have a dramatic effect on quality of life and would make many of our industries and businesses uncompetitive.  This would lead to job losses and poverty.

Mr Titford strongly believes in reducing pollution and in recycling but refuses to accept the doomsday scenarios currently being propagated.  The earth is a living planet and of course climate will change.  The temperature rises and falls in phases which are often linked with sunspot activity.  Even the global warming propagandists accept that over the next few years we are going into a cooling phase but conveniently add the qualification that temperatures will begin to rise again in a few years time.  This is to get them out of a rather large hole they have dug for themselves following their alarmist predictions that temperatures were going to consistently rise and cause massive global problems.

Mr Titford is also greatly concerned that demands for emission reductions are damaging the ability of developing countries to maximise their potential.  It would be ironic if the West’s obsession with climate change were to end up inflicting greater poverty on the Third World.

You should also be aware that Mr Titford was elected on a platform of withdrawal from the European Union.  Therefore, he believes that Britain’s best interests lie outside of the EU and he opposes the principle of the European Commission, an unelected body, laying down laws which are binding on member states.  This goes against all the principles of democracy and accountability.  We already have a situation where 75% of all new legislation passing through our Parliament at Westminster originates with the Commission.  There is no proper scrutiny and our Parliament acts as a mere rubber-stamp.  This is a highly dangerous form of government by bureaucratic diktat and does not bode well for the future of our country.

Thank you again for letting us have your thoughts on this subject.

Yours sincerely

Stuart Gulleford
Political Advisor to Jeffrey Titford MEP

My response

Dear Stuart,

Thank you for outlining Mr Titford’s position.  I have a number of concerns with the points you raise in your email.

I am concerned about your interpretation of climate science.  As a an undergraduate reading Geography at Cambridge University, I have spent the past two years learning from world-class scientists about climate change.  I find the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) compelling, given the evidence I have seen and analysed.  I strongly recommend you read their 2007 Summary for Policy Makers. This is peer-reviewed science and reflects the consensus of the world’s most eminent scientists.

You mention that global temperatures rise and fall with sunspot activity.  I do not have a problem with this claim, but with the context in which you use this statement.  The global warming that concerns me is not that on a decadal timescale, as that of sunspot cycles.  The past two million years have seen a series of glacial and interglacial periods, which have come about due to the way the Earth’s climate system responds to variations in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.  The difference with the warming we are seeing today, is that it is due to anthropogenic forcing rather than natural forcing.  This graph of temperature variations since 1000AD shows the temperature variations associated with sunspot cycles to be tiny compared to the sharp rise in temperature since the Industrial Revolution in England.

The internationally-recognised Stern Review, (conducted by Lord Stern in 2005, the then Head of the Government Economic Service and former World Bank Chief Economist) reports that taking action to mitigate climate change now is the “pro growth strategy”.  I disagree that this would lead to job losses; indeed, the current financial crisis provides an opportunity to create jobs and boost the economy by investing in the clean, renewable energy infrastructure that we need if we are to live sustainably.

Emissions reductions do not damage the potential of poorer countries to develop.  Wealth generation will be greatly harmed by climate change impacts, so it makes economic sense to reduce emissions right away.  Furthermore, there is great potential for investment in sustainable development in both poorer and richer countries.  Investment in renewable energy sources, for example, will provide jobs and also ensure that people do not have to suffer the health problems that result from burning fossil fuels, such as respiratory diseases.  Poor health is a key factor that holds back economic development, as ill people are less able to participate in the economy.

The target of reducing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to 350ppm is not impossible to meet, as you claim.  There have been numerous credible proposals put forward for achieving this target.  Oliver Tickell’s book, Kyoto2, makes one such proposal, with a reasoned analysis that takes into account the latest science and uses a combination of economic mechanisms and government regulation.

I am not saying this because I relish the thought of catastrophic climate change.  The prospect of growing up on a warming planet whose climate system is changing frightens me.  Already, the World Health Organisation reports that 160,000 people per year are dying as a result of climate change.  Water, already a scarce resource in many parts of the world, is becoming harder to come by.  Changes such as this have repercussions outside their immediate area, as people are forced to migrate in search of the resources no longer provided by their degrading local environment.

I urge you and Mr Titford to reconsider your position on this deeply important issue.  If you would like more information, do not hesitate to ask me.

Amy Mount