Stormy Weather Ahead
by Guy Dauncey
After ten thousand years of relative climatic stability, Planet
Earth is beginning to experience increasingly extreme and intense
snowstorms, windstorms, downpours, floods, heatwaves, droughts
and wildfires. If you want to talk about the weather, there’s
plenty to talk about.
But why is it happening? Are we responsible? If so, what can
we do about it? And at a deeper level, is there a connection to
our deeper sense of purpose?
For all my adult life, I have worked to integrate my inner
vision of the way human life on Earth could be (so much potential
for cooperation, trust, shared endeavour, and love) with the confusion
and suffering we so constantly create. The vision is stable, since
my heart’s inner knowledge does not change, but the confusions
come and go with each generation.
The warnings about the climate are dire. The scientists at
the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research have said
that if we don’t get things under control, the average global
temperature could rise by as much as 8o C by 2100,
and that the Amazon rainforest will begin to dry out and die by
2040. Temperatures in the western Arctic are already 2-3 oC above normal, causing the Arctic sea-ice to have lost
40% of its thickness since the 1950-1970 period. If this trend
continues, there may be no summer sea-ice by 2040. Tell that to
the polar bears: they need the ice to hunt from, just as we need
farms and orchards.
It was in the mid-1980s that I became aware of dangers inherent
in global climate change, and the potential for catastrophe. Up
until then, my work had been concerned with issues of unemployment,
and ways to build community-based economies, expressed in my book
After the Crash: The Emergence of the Rainbow Economy (Greenprint,
1986). The more I learnt about environmental issues, however,
the more I realized that if we were going to build a new economy
and a new heaven on earth, we had to do so in a way that would
harmonize with nature, not destroy her.
In December 2001, scientists with the British Antarctic Survey
said there was a 1 in 20 chance that the giant West Antarctic
Ice Sheet would collapse sometime in the next 200 years, raising
global sea-levels by 1 metre per century; that’s in addition to
the up to 0.3 metre rise predicted from thermal warming of the
ocean. 1 in 20 may not seem a high level of risk, but if you were
flying from London to New York, and the pilot told you there was
a 1 in 20 chance the plane would crash before arrival, would you
take the flight? A one metre rise in sea level means goodbye to
much of East Anglia, 60% of Holland, 60% of Bangladesh, and large
parts of Florida, China, and Egypt; it also means goodbye to many
of the world’s seaports, including parts of London.
Must it always be like this; must we wait until after the
disasters strike before we act? That has usually been humanity’s
way. This time, however, for the first time in human existence,
we possess a revolutionary means of high-speed, global communication
– the Internet. Maybe we can use it to mobilize our awareness,
and to act before it is too late?
We know that the levels of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere
are rising dramatically; we know that increased CO2 comes from
burning fossil fuels; we know that CO2 and methane trap heat in
the atmosphere. For the past 420,000 years, and probably for the
past 20 million years, CO2 has never risen above 298 parts per
million. This year, it will reach 373 ppm. The 2,500 scientists
on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have sought
for possible explanations apart from human activity, but they
have found none. Only a handful of scientists, most of whom have
been paid off by the fossil fuel industry, believe that it stems
from natural causes.
If we are going to sustain the vision of Earth as an emerging
paradise, a place where, as human consciousness evolves, we can
face our darknesses, defeat our evils, learn to share and co-operate,
and overcome our problems, we need to get a grip on this one –
and fast. In 1999, I decided to write a book on the range of solutions
that were needed to address global climate change, and sustain
the vision of what is possible. This was published in 2001 as
Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society
When my co-author Patrick Mazza and I crunched the numbers,
we saw that we needed a 80% reduction in global emissions by 2025
to prevent global warming from getting out of control. This could
be caused by a variety of feedbacks. As the forests die back,
for instance, they stop absorbing carbon. As the ice melts, the
sun’s heat is no longer reflected off the ocean by the albedo
effect. As the ice melts, the decrease in ocean salinity off Iceland
causes the warm Gulf Stream to switch off, tipping northern Europe
into frigid temperatures. These scenarios stem are all scientifically
valid, but they are not yet included in the world’s climate models:
the warnings we are receiving from the IPCC are not telling the
So is an 80% reduction in emissions by 2025 possible? First,
we looked at the energy numbers, to see if there was the potential
to meet the world’s energy needs, by combining increased energy
efficiency, renewable energy, and a shift to more sustainable
lifestyles. The answer was a clear yes. Using today’s technologies,
every fridge, stove, lightbulb, car, house and factory could be
twice as efficient as it is. Using tomorrow’s technologies, they
could be four times as efficient – and there are proven policies
that cities and nations can use to stimulate greater efficiency.
By making our lifestyles more sustainable - shifting to more buses,
trains, cycling, car-sharing and walking, recycling 100% of our
wastes, consuming less, and sharing more - we could reduce our
climate impact further yet.
Next we asked "Could solar energy meet our needs?"
The sun provides the Earth with 2,000 times more energy than it
needs every day, and solar technologies work. The only obstacle
to a worldwide solar revolution is the price. Solar currently
sells for 17- 52 cents/kilowatt hour (11–36 pence/kWh; 0.19-0.58
Euro/kWh). With mass production, in factories that can produce
500 MW of photovoltaic cells a year (compared to the 2001 world
production of 350 MW), the price would fall four-fold, and everyone
would start installing solar shingles on their roofs. It’s totally
do-able – it just needs encouragement.
If the world’s nations were to decide to accelerate the purchase
of solar energy through a Global Solar Treaty, they could max
up demand, enable mass production to kick in, and cause prices
to fall. They could write a solar compact, agreeing to introduce
regulations obliging their power utilities to produce 5% of their
energy from solar by 2010, rising to 20% by 2025. City governments
could bring in ‘future-spective’ building codes, making it mandatory
for every new house built after 2005 to have a 2kW solar system
on the roof, and every existing house to have one before it was
sold. Combined with tax credits, transitional price subsidies,
solar mortgages, eco-taxes on energy from fossil fuels, and net
metering (enabling householders and businesses to sell their solar
surpluses back to the grid), such a treaty would soon make solar
roofs as normal as regular plumbing.
The same approach can be taken to the acceleration of energy
produced from the wind, biomass, geothermal, microhydro, the tides
and the waves. Taken together, Earth has all the capacity we need
– and that includes the use of these energies to create hydrogen
for use in our vehicles, ships, airplanes and factories, by splitting
fresh water or growing hydrogen-producing algae.
It is amazing to realize that we have all the solutions we
need to tackle the crisis of global climate change – and that
each of the solutions will make our Earth a cleaner, healthier,
more sustainable place. The same applies to the release of methane,
the second most powerful greenhouse gas, where the solutions (less
garbage, less meat-eating, phasing out fossil fuel extraction,
better animal husbandry practices) all make for a better world.
The golden rule also applies to forestry, where ecoforestry and
tree-planting store more carbon, and to agriculture, where organic
practices do the same. Why would we not want to solve this problem,
when all the solutions point to a better world?
The answer lies in the politics. In a nutshell, the fossil
fuel corporations have out-maneuvered us. In most of the world’s
nations, they have lobbied, bribed, and carved out for themselves
a privileged place, lined with subsidies and friendly policies.
I call them the carbon barons, with their own set of carbon minstrels
(the nay-saying scientists), carbon journalists, carbon lobbyists
(eg the Global Climate Coalition), carbon politicians and carbon
bankers (eg the World Bank) to support their dirty work. If it
were not for them, the world might have agreed to a 20% cut in
greenhouse gas emissions below the 1990 level at Kyoto, not a
measly 5%, now reduced to 2.5% by fine-print weaseling.
But what is new? Do we not have to confront our personal fears,
needs and self-centredness before we can dedicate ourselves fully
to the wellbeing of humanity and the Earth? The outer world is
just a mirror of the inner. If we want to prevent the enormous
tragedies and losses that climate change will cause over the coming
years, we have to engage in active dialogue and conflict (however
friendly) with those who are seeking to slow and obstruct the
When we wrote Stormy Weather, it was with a conscious
awareness that we were placing the tools of change in everyone’s
hands. We wanted to eliminate forever the belief that we do not
know what to do. With that purpose, we organized the book into
sections, detailing the best solutions for everyone from individuals,
churches, schools and colleges through to cities, businesses,
utilities, auto corporations, governments and developing nations,
ending with the global solutions.
In 1833, after many years of effort, Britain abolished slavery.
Later, we abolished child labour, and won the vote for women.
In each of these campaigns, the movers and shakers were motivated
by a determination and an instinctive belief that success was
inevitable. They knew in their hearts that slavery, child labour
and the oppression of women were offensive to our whole sense
of humanity, and our continued evolution. They were driven by
an instinct, however poorly formed, that Earth could be
an emerging paradise.
Now we have to follow in their footsteps, and engage ourselves
in a similar struggle to phase out the climate-harming fossil
fuels (coal, oil and gas), and phase in the more sustainable,
friendly alternatives. The British government has effectively
endorsed this goal in its recent energy review. Now it is up to
us to get out there, and campaign our hearts out.
Even at the darkest of times, it is possible to light a candle.
Courage is the heart’s way of saying "Go on – you can do
it". The alternative is awful, both for the world, and for
ourselves. What would our lives be, without hope, love and courage?
How many years of disillusion can a soul take before it finally
rebels, and sets out on the quest it has been so long denying?
Once on the journey, it can join hands with so many others who
share the same instinctive knowledge: this world can become
Guy Dauncey is the author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions
to Global Climate Change (New Society Publishers) (ISBN 0-86571-421-5).
It can be ordered in all bookshops, and is distributed in Britain
by Jon Carpenter Books (firstname.lastname@example.org). Guy is currently engaged in ‘The Solutions Project’,
which seeks to address all of the world’s major social and environmental
problems in a similar manner to "101 Solutions". He
lived in Britain until 1990, when he migrated to Victoria, Canada,
where he lives now. His website is www.earthfuture.com
Climate Action Resources in the UK:
Friends of the Earth: www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate
Rising Tide UK: www.risingtide.org.uk