Image of Dr Julian Huppert and Craig Bennett at the event
Dr Julian Huppert and Craig Bennett at the event

Experts call for positive action on climate change at Intellectual Forum event

Smart city pilots and health and industrial benefits were two of the key climate change themes debated at a packed Intellectual Forum and Cambridge Science Festival event on 15th March.

Experts from the British Antarctic Survey, Friends of the Earth and Jesus College Cambridge emphasised that if we are to successfully tackle climate change, the actions of individuals, organisations and nations in the next 15 years will be critical.

Prof Simon Redfern, Department of Earth Sciences and Jesus College; Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth; and Dr Emily Shuckburgh, British Antarctic Survey, discussed the issues in a panel event on 15th March chaired by Dr Julian Huppert, Director of the Jesus College Intellectual Forum.

Prof Redfern said: “Climate change is the biggest problem facing society. Even if we use more renewable energy, we live in a world addicted to fossil fuels. We will still need to use fossil fuels in 50 or even 100 years time to make steel and concrete; this means we need to move towards negative emissions in other areas to compensate for the carbon-producing activities that will have to continue.

“In Shanghai last year, I saw the value of a city being informed. There are apps available showing the latest data about air quality in different parts of the city, and everyone checks them. It shares the responsibility and motivates change.”

Dr Shuckburgh picked up the theme. “The consolidation of people in cities is a risk as well as an opportunity. The opportunity is that we can deploy and pilot solutions in a city context on a manageable scale.”

Bennett continued: “With devolved power coming to some UK cities, this is an exciting time to run some pilot projects. Could Cambridge be the first ‘smart city’ so everyone has smart apps and a smart meter? We have the expertise and infrastructure. What could this offer?”

All three experts noted that actions were needed at individual, business and national levels, and that the conversation needed to emphasise the positive benefits of action on climate change. Dr Shuckburgh said: “What are the positive sides of stopping climate change? We could drive new industries and revive others such as sustainable agriculture. There could also be health benefits for everyone if we can reduce rising temperatures, improve air quality, and reduce meat consumption.”

Prof Redfern added: “The messages about climate change can be confrontational; we need positive messages that will encourage positive actions at individual level.”

Bennett suggested some specific actions: “If everyone in the UK cut red meat consumption in half, this would be one of the fastest ways to cut the UK’s carbon footprint. At national level, we could bring back the guidelines saying that houses should be water efficient and energy efficient. Not only would this reduce our consumption, but those houses would be cheaper and warmer to live in.

“The modern climate change movement has only been around for 50 years and we have achieved a huge amount. But we need to continue to make significant progress in the next 30 years or it may be too late.”

Dr Huppert said: ”I was delighted that so many members of the public of all ages came to our first public event to discuss one of the most crucial issues of our time. There was clear enthusiasm for strong action, at a national and international level, and at a more local and individual level. There was real excitement at the possibility of doing things here in Cambridge. This city could become a pioneer, with a better quality of life for all of us as well as reducing the harm we cause to the natural world.”