Life without mangoes, bananas or flights to Paris

A group of global experts has worked out that Britain could cut 637m tonnes of greenhouse gases within 20 years. But life would be very different.

Tucked away on page 16 of The Guardian yesterday was one of those stories that doesn’t get much attention in the mainstream media but could arguably be the most important story of all.
“Vision of zero carbon Britain in just 20 years” said the headline. Four British universities, the Met Office (which does the weather forecasts) and a panel of globally respected experts, teamed up to examine what real life would be like if Britain managed to cut all its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide and methane that warm the planet by sitting in the earth’s atmosphere, emitting radiation. Too much warming will lead (amongst other dangers) to catastrophic flooding, disease and malnutrition. Reducing gases is entirely possible, said the experts, and all that we need is the will to make it happen.
What sort of changes would there be? Mass insulation of homes and offices, for a start, with smaller rooms that are easier to heat; electric cars; airlines no longer permitted to fly short distances; and more public transport.
We would have to generate a lot more renewable electricity using clean sources such as wind. Nuclear energy is a bad idea, say the experts.

Workers from traditional heavy industries such as steel or cement making would have to be retrained to work on insulating buildings – or go back to working on the land. We may still eat a roast for dinner but it would be chicken or pork because lamb and cattle take up too much land and emit too much methane.
Mangoes and bananas would no longer be available as food imports would have to halve and the luxuries from far-off lands would be the first to be cut. The landscape would look different since millions of acres would have to be dedicated to growing vegetables.

Starry eyed

Much of the reaction has been angry, accusing the experts of abject folly in thinking that people will ever be willing to go back to a less comfortable lifestyle. We already live in the smallest rooms in the western world – “dream on” says one critic. Others support the vision with a simple point: if we don’t change there won’t be anything to argue about since in a couple of centuries life won’t exist.

You Decide

  1. What is more important to achieve carbon reduction – political will or individual action?
  2. Is our high carbon lifestyle of cheap flights, frequent meat, fossil fuelled cars and constant power a right or a luxury?

Activities

  1. Design a questionnaire for a year 6 class to determine the size of their carbon footprint – additional resources are available at:http://bit.ly/9xgQiX

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