A reader has asked why so much of the Newsletter has been devoted
recently to climate change, which surely belongs properly with Friends
of the Earth and similar enthusiasts rather than The Ipswich Society.
But the climate isn't changing just for Friends of the Earth: for good
or ill it is influenced by all of us in the way we live our lives. For
the sake of our children and grandchildren, urgent action on low-carbon
energy is needed over the next few years at all levels from
international to individual. There is no need to panic, but there is
every need for concerted action. But what?
In the July Newsletter we saw that while we can all take steps to reduce
carbon emissions by using energy less wastefully and more efficiently,
which will be crucial over the next decade or so, much deeper cuts in
emissions must be made beyond 2020, calling for massive investment in
new sources of energy. Much has been made of the possibilities for
individual households to generate their own energy, but a recent
'Guardian' review showed that the case for a mass market in such
domestic micro-generation solutions is far from proven for both
technical and economic reasons. Hence the replacement for the mass
consumption of fossil fuels must be motivated from a higher
organisational level, calling for political leadership both nationally
and locally. It takes time and money to plan and build new
infrastructure, and we need to start now. But who wants to pay for that,
on top of rapidly rising energy bills? Then again, who wants the lights
to go out?
It is most unusual for any elected government to risk taking action
ahead of public opinion, and I expected my next sentence to be to urge
you to lobby your local councillors and MPs to provide the political
will needed to bring those changes about. Happily, things are already
moving at both levels,
but they still need our critical encouragement
and active support.
Locally - and this is where climate change brings tangible matters for
Ipswich Society members to consider -
Ipswich Borough Council has
unveiled proposals for up to four wind turbines to be erected around the
outskirts of Ipswich, three of which will stand 125 metres tall. If
correspondence in the 'Evening Star' is any barometer of local opinion,
the proposal appears to have been given a cautious welcome.
Taking the negative view first, we should not be blind to the potential
for adverse environmental impact from such tall moving structures. The
Suffolk Preservation Society has in the past voiced concerns about
off-shore windfarms if they are visible above the horizon. Can we not
simply maintain the status quo? Well, if we want to maintain our living
standards, we have to change to secure energy supplies for our future.
If we stick with burning fossil fuels, supplies are already becoming
more expensive and less secure, and they will ultimately undermine the
conditions which support our survival. So which status quo do we want?
Many people find wind turbines to be graceful and elegant structures,
but even if you disagree, might you prefer to tolerate the sight of them
by day if, in return, they provide heat and illumination through the
hours of darkness?
Of more tangible concern is the matter of noise and vibration, which may
be much lower than traffic or aircraft noise but which, if perceptible,
could be a persistent and even relentless source of nuisance in the dead
of night for anyone living within earshot. However, the Council's site
selection strategy minimises the risk of this outcome, and the portfolio
holder, Councillor Louise Gooch, offers the following reassurance:
'We have been careful with our preliminary site selection to identify
those places which appear to have least environmental impact - all are
close to dual carriageways, one is near to overhead pylons and another
is close to a sewage treatment works. However, all would need to have an
environmental impact assessment undertaken, and we would ask the partner
we work with to undertake the consultation with residents, so that no
one could reasonably suggest that IBC is imposing this on unwilling
residents. As it is, there are guidelines about how close turbines can
be erected relative to domestic dwellings, and so far all sites are
within those parameters.'
Taking the positive view, we have to look to the future both for the
climate and our own pockets. Wind turbines may not yet produce energy as
cheaply as fossil fuels have, but how will they compare in a few years
time? On-shore is also cheaper than off-shore wind energy, and both are
plentiful sources of renewable energy available locally, unlike oil and
gas nowadays. The Borough's initiative has earned the recognition of
John Gummer MP, a champion of making Suffolk the greenest county. And
may well provide an example for other local authorities to follow.
But wind power alone will not fill the energy gap. In a speech on 26
June heralding a Low Carbon Britain, Gordon Brown highlighted the need
to facilitate oil supplies in the short term while reducing our
dependence on it for the longer term. In addition to new energy
efficiency measures and incentives, he proposed a major shift to
renewables of all kinds and to nuclear, and eventually to carbon capture
and storage (CCS) when commercially proven, so that virtually all our
energy will be from low-carbon-emitting sources by 2050. This will
require £100 billion of private sector investment over twelve years, and
the Government is seeking to provide the policy framework and to remove
the obstacles to this enterprise.
So both local and national government are indicating the political will
to move to cleaner forms of energy. Our support for these actions should
be properly and objectively sceptical.
Why does the specification for a new coal-fired power station contain no
reference to CCS? And is nuclear waste so bad when it is rendered safe
after a few thousand years, whereas carbon has to be locked up for ever?
But our support should equally derive from anticipation of fuel
shortages, insecure supplies and rising prices - power cuts and fuel
poverty - rather than nostalgia for the cheap and plentiful domestic
supplies we have enjoyed from the North Sea for the past decades, whose
impact on the climate will persist for decades to come.
Cover, issue 173