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What can be done about climate change?

Countdown to COP26 is a Trust u3a group attempting to stay updated with developments about the Global Climate Talks, COP26 – and discussing what can be done about climate change.

Members of ‘Countdown to COP’ are most definitely seeking to do as much as they can about climate change. Meeting monthly and with a growing membership (currently approaching 40), the group feels that urgent actions around climate change needs to be taken now.

During monthly meetings, there has been a focus on the Paris Agreement, COP26 and the issues around averting the climate crisis. Three topics consistently arise: domestic heating, travel and food choices. Here is a flavour of some of these discussions.

Food and Farming

Agriculture is known to have a high carbon footprint, contributing 10% of greenhouse gases , partly from its use of manufactured fertilisers and animal feed. Lorna led the group through a session of food and farming which covered a wide range of issues. The topic of meat was controversial, but the idea that we could come to view eating meat as a luxury and not an everyday essential was suggested.

Since the 1950s and the availability of artificial fertilisers, there has been a race to make farming more efficient to cater for rising populations. In many ways this has had a negative impact on the environment with impoverished soils, increased use of antibiotics and steroids and reductions in animal welfare.

Peter said, “I wish to see very high animal welfare standards and would encourage the consumption of local foods and more seasonality in the range of foods available”. Taking a slightly different approach, Clive was concerned for our land and water systems: “Our land use must change with mixed arable planting and more rewilding. We need to protect the carbon sinks of soil, peat and plants and to stop poisoning our rivers with chemicals.”

But what about the way we shop? Theresa commented: “I’m trying to change my eating habits, reducing consumption of processed foods and buying more of locally produced foods”.

This is a complex area and probably needs a ‘package’ of approaches for our food industry, as suggested by Catherine: “Encourage a ‘flexitarian’ diet, more organic farming and regenerative agriculture. Encourage seasonal and local eating. Ban food products flown in. Reduce food waste massively. Encourage composting. And food waste collection by councils. Phase out pesticides and fertilisers.”

Heating our homes

In the UK about 15% of our total carbon emissions come from domestic heating – topped only by the proportion emitted by transport.

Unsurprisingly, there is much shared concern in the group at the lack of action. Alan Briggs expressed his concern at the anomaly that “surcharges are currently on electricity yet not on gas. There is a lack of Government commitment to heat pumps and additionally building regulations are appallingly lax in terms of energy efficiency”.

Members from the devolved nations have similar concerns, including Theresa from Northern Ireland who commented, “I have a gas-fired central heating boiler which was installed with the help of a Northern Ireland government grant. I wasn’t offered any alternative to gas. Now I find that these are not recommended as being the most environmentally friendly option. Why is the locally devolved government promoting the installation of gas?”

In the run-up to COP 26, members of the group have looked carefully at various solutions and you can find more about this on our Countdown to COP website. Home (google.com)

Getting around

The transport industry is the UK’s biggest polluter contributing 27% of greenhouse gases. So what can we do about our transport system?

Reducing the need for travel is an obvious first step. On a macro level, some members of the group felt that we could ensure that future planning built affordable homes close to workplaces. Idris suggested we increase incentives for reducing the need to travel through schemes such as working from home, sharing a car and borrowing/hiring a bike.

Public transport was seen by many of our members as an important part of the journey to net zero. Frances made the pragmatic point that if we are going to entice people away from cars then public transport needs to be frequent and cheap everywhere in the UK. Leon commented further, “Before Coronavirus, we used to maximise use of public transport and minimise use of car. We need money and effort to be put into making public transport more Covid safe longer-term and not letting things like social distancing and mask wearing slip.”

Private car ownership is an issue in the UK with three quarters of households owning at least one car and 32% owning more than one vehicle. Several members are interested in or already have an electric vehicle (EV).

Air travel is often seen as one of the biggest polluters. Joe suggested that the Government stop subsidising airlines, increase taxes on jet fuel/airport arrivals and use part of that revenue on the rail system to make it more affordable. Idris suggested we “ration ‘air miles’ per annum per head of population, and apply an incremental taxation program on petroleum and other high carbon fuels to punitive level, ending in rationing”.

Where does this leave the group?

It is not uncommon for people interested in the environment to feel ‘eco guilt’ and a range of feelings of impotence and even distress. Eleanor commented “When I hear about global warming, I know I am contributing to the problem so feel I am not doing enough. But then I remember doing SOMETHING is what is important! Every little helps”.

Members of the Countdown to COP group are keen to do what we can as individuals. The group has developed a website with open access to all u3a members. There are several helpful documents, including two that offer practical actions to reduce energy consumption. 

What can I do?

These suggestions are taken from the document ‘What we can do’ on the group’s website.

Seek to reduce your food waste; steer away from beef, dairy and lamb products; Switch to a sustainable energy provider eg Bulb, Ovo and Octopus; Make sure your home is well-insulated and research your options if you need to replace a gas boiler.

Find out if there is a u3a near you with a climate or environmental group – or join Countdown to COP, through Trust u3a.

Contributions from

Alan– Camberley and District u3a
Eleanor – White Cliffs Country u3a
Lorna– Kings Norton u3a
Catherine – Hampstead Garden Suburb u3a
David – Lichfield u3a
Joe – Edinburgh u3a
Frances– Trust u3a
Leon– Trust u3a
Peter – Helensburgh and District u3a
Idris – Pershore u3a
Ann – Machynlleth u3a
Theresa – Belfastu3a
Clive – Odiham District u3a

An article about Trust u3a’s Countdown to COP group will be in the September issue of Third Age Matters, our members’ magazine. If you are a u3a member who would like to receive Third Age Matters, talk to your committee. If you are not a u3a member, join us now.