10 November 2021

Happy talk, keep talking happy talk,
Talk about things you'd like to do,
You gotta have a dream, if you don't have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?
(South Pacific, Rodgers and Hammerstein)

Some time ago, maybe a couple of years, I came to the conclusion that, based on pretty limited research, humanity was doomed. Why? Well, in simple terms and based on my own observation, the human species is unable to act in its own best interests. There are just too many colliding agendas: consumerism; capitalism; competition and, possibly most importantly, population.

The first suggestions that the Industrial Revolution might cause environmental change came in the very late 1800s. Langley&Very looked at atmospheric CO2 and that work was developed by Arrhenius which resulted in Arvid Hagbom establishing that c1896, industrial CO2 production roughly matched that in nature. In the following 125 years, industrial CO2 production has far outstripped any naturally occurring CO2 and science is quite certain that this level of CO2 production is causing Climate Change by warming the atmosphere.

So what has driven this explosion in industrially produced atmospheric CO2? The answer is simple - human activity. The Industrial Revolution changed the relationship between human population and the planet or, more accurately, the Planet's resources. Before the Industrial Revolution, one individual could only do a limited amount of work, limited by hours of daylight, limited by the amount of energy the individual could expend. But the Industrial Revolution changed that relationship because machinery could be worked 24 hours per day especially with the advent of gas lighting then with electric lighting. Importantly, agriculture mechanised, which created more and cheaper food meaning that larger families no longer lived in hunger (if they had visionary employers).

All of this resulted in a parallel explosion of global population estimated at 1Bn in 1804 then reaching 2Bn 120+ years later, around 1927. But this explosion in population did not follow a straight line graph with 3Bn being reached 33 years later and 4Bn reached in only14 further years. Today, in 2021, global population is estimated to be in excess of 8Bn and whilst the increase may well slow, the central question is whether or not the current population level is sustainable. From where I sit, the answer to that question is 'NO'.

We have just witnessed the latest episode of the Global Climate Conference, COP26, and, based upon various statements by interested parties, limiting global warming to +1.5˚ may be already impossible. Some suggest that an increase of +2.0˚ is not too far away and the consequences of a rise of even 1.5˚ will have dire consequences for many around the world. But humanity is nothing if not resourceful.

 Since 'climate' became generally recognised issue (say, from the 1960s onward), industry has been looking to turn the challenge into an opportunity. In colder climates, the focus has been on reducing energy loss (double glazing, insulation etc) whereas in warmer climates, the focus has been in moving energy around (via air-conditioning ). More recently, the focus has been on what has, euphemistically, been on 'renewable energy sources' like wind, solar, geo-thermal, hydro-electric, hydrogen and other more arcane technologies. The only problem with these technologies is that they are focused on allowing humankind to carry on as before. And the major problem there is that global population is today at such a level that, with climate change, it is easy to consider a situation where the planet will be unable to support humanity no matter what technologies humanity deploys.

As a consequence, some politicians, notably our own Boris Johnson, indulge in 'happy talk' where we (humanity) are all 'equal to the challenge'. This suggests that we will come up with some magical technology which will save us from 'burning our house down', probably with us in it.