Arctic ice volumes were at a new low this winter. The European Space Agency’s radar satellite, Cryosat has been observing the volume of the ice in the Arctic for the last three years. It estimated that there was a little under 15,000 cubic kilometres of ice in March/April 2013, when the ice is at its thickest. This is less than half the amount of ice there would have been just 30 years ago. The ice was thinner than usual this year, and thickness is more important than just the area the ice covers, which previously has been the measure used.
So it looks like our climate is changing and things are getting warmer. But three years of data proves nothing. There are blips and variations in weather all the time, but long-term climate change can’t be confirmed using short term measurements like these.
But it has to be said that the evidence for warming, caused by human activity is definitely growing, and we can’t afford to sit around waiting for either scientific camp – those who believe climate change is being caused by us or those who think and climate change is just natural variation – to be proved right.
We need to act on the basis that climate change is happening and even if it’s not wholly caused by us, we are playing a part. We have to find ways of combatting climate change and that means reducing the amount of carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere.
And with the UK facing possible energy shortages in the coming decades, we need to get our energy policy sorted out quickly. Nuclear power is where the government is planning to invest billions. But the only key players in the frame to provide our nuclear future are backed by foreign governments – France’s EDF is 85% owned by the French government for example, while its potential partner China General Nuclear Group is state-owned.
That’s because the costs of nuclear power are so huge that any commercially-run operations have left the scene. Just look at Fukushima. Until recently, the site’s operator Tepco, a commercial company, has been left to deal with the problem. The result is cost-cutting, skimping on safety and continuing crises that perhaps could have been averted with swifter intervention at a government level.
So now the Japanese government is spending £200+ million on an untested ice wall to prevent further leakage of highly radioactive water. Let’s hope it works, but the costs of controlling the ongoing nuclear reactions in Fukushima’s broken reactors will go on for at least the next forty years. That’s the kind of cost no commercial company could survive.
Apart from the zero carbon argument, which is compelling, I can see no reason why investing in nuclear power here in the UK is a good idea. It’s simply too dangerous and too costly. Leading environmental campaigners Jonathon Porritt, Tom Burke, Tony Juniper and Charles Secrett have all signed a letter to David Cameron warning that the govenrment’s current energy policies might cost UK households and businesses up to £100 billion and that rather than reducing our energy bills, the drive for nuclear energy will double them. Moreover, it’s almost unthinkable that any reactors would be ready by the 2025 deadline that is currently being worked to. And on top of that, there are the what ifs. What if a nuclear accident happened here. Apart from the human cost, who would end up footing the bill for the clean-up and containment? I’m guessing that would be down to us taxpayers.
What are the alternatives? Well, there’s shale gas from fracking. It appears there is plenty of it and it’s cleaner than coal, but it’s still a carbon-based fuel and it is proving to be extremely controversial, with people concerned about its impacts geologically (it has been known to cause earthquakes and indeed did so in the northwest of England in April and May 2011), not to mention fears of burning tap water (check out the videos from the USA on YouTube) and contaminated water supplies. And on top of this, and most significantly, it does nothing to address our move to a low carbon economy.
Let’s think for a minute. There are around 26 million households in the UK. If having new nuclear energy might cost us up to £100 billion, why not reallocate that money to empower householders to generate their own renewable energy at home through solar panels and small scale wind turbines? It would work out at nearly £4,000 per household – more than half of the current cost of a solar installation.
When you take the huge volumes into account, which would reduce the cost of installations, along with reduced or non-existent energy billsfor householders, for decades to come, this surely makes sense. Will it happen? I doubt it. There are too many vested interests and it would be complicated to administer. But surely it actually makes the most sense and would actually lead us to a sustainable, renewable low carbon economy.