Nagging is the repetition of unpalatable truths
– Dr Edith Summerskill (Labour politician)
Let's face it, guys; women can be pains with their nagging. You know:
'Have you remembered your mobile?'
'Got your wallet?'
'And your ticket?'
'Oh, my ticket – er, now I had it somewhere?'
'Did you look on the kitchen table? That's the last place it was.'
'Oh, yes; so it is: couldn't leave without it.'
You see what I mean. They nag but, annoyingly, they are right to do so. The biggest female nag at the moment is one of the littlest in height. Greta Thunberg nags on and on about climate change; a real nuisance; a real pain. Us guys just want to get on with the football, watching TV, going to the pub, making money and enjoying the odd war that crops up every so often; but Greta does not let up. You would think it was the end of the world or something the way she goes on.
Well, maybe it will be; well, it will be unless we do something; well, it will have to be something drastic at that. And so it will have to be.
The planet Venus is an example of what can happen when global warming rages out of control and the temperature rises to well over 400 degrees. No life can exist in that boiling turmoil. Current estimates are that, by 2050, the Earth will have warmed by two degrees centigrade above its pre-industrial levels. That may not seem much (certainly not when compared to Venus) but, given that the difference between 1850 temperature and the Ice Age was only five degrees, two degrees will bring considerable consequences and disastrous ones at that – and the estimates for the year 2100 is around plus three degrees, thus ensuring even more extreme weather.
Australia is an example where complacent thinking about global warming has led to an ongoing crisis. Australia was one of those countries who supported the Paris Agreement of 2016 which placed on it a legal obligation to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26% of its 2005 levels by the year 2030. Despite its use of the earlier Kyoto Agreement to claim that it is meeting its targets, the Berlin-based Climatic Analytics Institute found that Australia was not in fact and that, since 2015, Australia's emissions have risen considerably.
Australia, under its Prime Minister Scott Morrison (who has links to the coal industry), has cheated. Its original targets were based on its emissions of 1990 – a year of especial deforestation in Australia which had raised its normal emissions considerably. This permitted Australia to increase its regular fossil fuel emissions (excluding 1990) yet still (apparently) achieve its target – especially when the earlier Kyoto agreement was considered.
Since 2005, however, Australian emissions have gone up in three out of the four main areas of concern – industry, transport and agriculture. These areas are all inter-linked and only in its electrical usage have Australian emissions fallen (slightly).
That does not make it somehow justice that the bush fires that have ravaged Australia are deserved. They are the fault of all of us. America and China are the two biggest polluting nations but we all need to take radical action to counter global warming and, as Greta would confirm, we have not been taking that action. To a large extent that is because it would discommode us to do so and we are extremely reluctant to abandon the immediate comforts our fossil-fuel driven economy provides. And to forsake such comforts would upset the economy in any event. How can we live without our private cars, our regular purchase of fresh clothing, our meat heavy diet, our holidays abroad, our plastic gizmos?
Well, we have to learn to do so if we want to survive.
The problem is the scale of things. We use, say, one plastic toothpick a day and then throw it away. What is one plastic toothpick? – Yet perhaps as many as another 50 million individuals worldwide are throwing away a used plastic toothpick every day. Some go to landfill, others are burnt and a few end up in the sea; pollution. And the energy to make them is considerable compared to their size; pollution again.
By all means, we must not give up toothpicks, but we still have to alter our lifestyles to compensate. We both have to massively reduce our emissions and we have to, as a matter of extreme urgency, develop energy effective ways of removing greenhouse gases from our atmosphere. We need a technological breakthrough in that latter regard but we cannot afford to sit back and wait for one. Development work in Iceland and British Columbia demonstrates that removing CO2 (the main greenhouse gas – because it lingers longer in the atmosphere) is possible; however there are side issues and it will take considerable time before the energy in developing greenhouse gas removal procedures is paid for in the actual weight of gas removed.
The same is true of planting trees. The millions of trees being planted currently in China as a defence against global warming will take around 100 years before the energy cost in planting is paid back: and it is a similar story regarding the proposal involving planting trees in the Sahara Desert, where the overall gain is debateable.
So, until a technological breakthrough is achieved simplifying the removal of such gases from the atmosphere – and that is unlikely – we must do everything we can to cut our emissions.
The problem is twofold; firstly, as suggested by the toothpick example, the outpourings of greenhouse gases have innumerable causes and each, in itself, is relatively small compared to the whole and, secondly, the cuts will have to be more than severe and will be painful to take. That means motor-cars will have to be excluded from our city centres (including electric ones – greener than petrol but they still are responsible for producing around 10 tonnes of greenhouse gases in each one's manufacture); taxes on all private vehicles will have to rise as will taxes on petrol and all fossil fuels – and we will have to pay higher for meat and for air fares (all amongst other things and all to discourage use). Off-setting this, public transport will have to be invigorated and fares dropped to encourage more users – all pointing to public ownership of such.
Glaswegians will find the difficulties soon enough as Glasgow has now pledged itself to be carbon neutral by 2030. Excellent in itself and, indeed, Scotland as a whole can join Iceland in setting the world an example in the use of renewable energy. Our extreme north-east tip is the windiest part of Europe and the Pentland Firth, currently being developed for tidal power by the dedicated company Meygen, offers, potentially, enough green electricity to fuel the whole of the British mainland.
That will all take time – time we do not have much of; but it would, if Scotland can achieve such a future, give us the right to nag other countries; and I do not mean that flippantly. As Dr Edith Summerskill suggested, nagging can be very effective.
Bill Paterson is a writer based in Glasgow