Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change

Could you live without imported avocados? You may need to before long. Image: By CIAT, via Wikimedia Commons

Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. A new book makes it sound almost easy. Well, it’s not impossible.

LONDON, 19 August, 2020 – The world is nowhere near tackling the climate crisis, says a new book by an Oxford scholar, Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. But at least we know how to.

Year on year, the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is rising. The ability of oceans, forests and soils to absorb and recycle CO2 is fast diminishing. Like an out-of-control coal train, climate change is thundering towards us.

International agreements and protocols – countless meetings and mega amounts of jaw-jaw – have manifestly failed to address the challenge ahead.

Dieter Helm, professor of economic policy at Oxford University in the UK and the author of several books on climate change, throws up his hands in frustration.

“Thirty years on from the UN’s drive to address climate change, we are still going backwards at an alarming rate”, he says.

The wrong policies have been followed, governments have misled people and we, the public, have failed to come to terms with what’s happening.

“In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”

The Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C compared to the level in 1990 is unattainable, says Helm.

“Stop pretending and recognise the brutal facts about what has been going on for the last 30 years and why it has been such an abject failure. It is realism, not spin and fake optimism about progress and costs, that we need.”

For the most part, Helm talks of events in the industrialised world, in particular in Europe. He argues that countries such as the UK and Germany delude themselves by thinking they are tackling climate change simply by cutting the production of greenhouse gases within their own borders.

Much of Europe, he argues, is post-industrial: it imports vast amounts of goods – steel from China, textiles from Bangladesh, avocados from Peru. All these products have heavy carbon footprints.

It is the consumption of all these goods that is doing the damage. Only when countries – and we, their citizens – stop buying and accumulating such products will progress be made.

Dangerous delusion

“It is not enough to clean up our own backyard. This does not stop us contributing to global warming.

“It is fantasy, propagated by politicians, the [UK] Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and some activists, that if we could only get to net zero for our own territorial emissions – for our carbon production – that would mean that we would have crossed the Rubicon and no longer be causing any further global warming. It is an extremely dangerous delusion.”

The solution, says Helm, is going to be painful, at least in the short to medium term. There have to be substantial carbon taxes, on both domestic produce and imports.

A whole range of goods will become more expensive. Standards of living will fall, we will be worse off. We have to adapt to a whole new way of life.

The top-down approach to tackling the climate crisis, through what Helm describes as the UN cartel and other bodies, has just not worked. It is we, the consumers, who must act.

“You and I, the ultimate polluters, will have to pay the price of our carbon-intensive lifestyles”, says Professor Helm.

Tiny renewable share

Public finances have to be transformed: massive spending on zero carbon infrastructure is a priority. Agriculture – an environmental disaster area – has to be changed completely.

Helm has an edgy, no-nonsense style of writing. “In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”, he says.

He rails against people fooling themselves. Those who think China is leading the way towards a green future are seriously mistaken. Activists who prophesy the end of coal and other fossil fuels are deluded.

With exploding demand, the past 30 years have been a golden age for the fossil fuel industry, and for all the hype, renewables still contribute only a minuscule amount of the total world energy mix.

Yet if we, the consumers, act, there will certainly be pain but the reward will be worthwhile. “There are many aspects to our individual lives which would be better in 2050 than they are now”, Dieter Helm says. “A greener world is a healthier one.” – Climate News Network

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  • Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change   By Dieter Helm   William Collins: to be published on 3 September 2020   £20.00