“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could
only do a little”. (Edmund Burke (1729-1797) British statesman and political thinker)
Since the phenomenon of anthropogenic climate change was discovered in the late 1970s, it
has been variously described as an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment (1), a weapon of mass destruction (2), a huge problem (3), the most pervasive environmental threat of the coming century (4), a threat more serious even than the threat of terrorism (5) and a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence(6).
Such commanding rhetoric is powerful indeed. But what is the true nature of climate change and what are we doing to address the questions it poses?
As a challenge for the 21st century climate change is unique. Firstly, it does not respect
traditional boundaries either in space or time. The climate change that is underway in Devon today has not been caused solely by the local emission of greenhouse gases. It is a global phenomenon to which each and every one of us has contributed. Secondly, there is a
significant time lag of 30 years or so in the climate system which means that its full effects
will not be felt until well after the time for meaningful decision-making has long passed.
Whilst no one household, city, county, region or nation alone can resolve it, we should be in
no doubt that our individual contribution is important.
As a County Council we have recognised that climate change is likely to be one of the key
drivers of change within our community this century. We have appointed a Climate Change
Officer to direct our response to global warming and have made a far reaching commitment
to act by signing the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change. This climate change
strategy is our first important step in delivering on that commitment. As such it is concerned with reducing emissions today for the benefit of future generations for many decades to come. By adjusting our behaviour we can take effective action without disturbing the essence of our way of life. The strategy also highlights the need to put in place measures to cope with the impacts of a changing climate that we are already committed to as a result of past and present emissions. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it deals with the issue of climate change communication – the need to inform, change attitudes, create ownership and alter behaviours. Through the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific consensus
on climate change has emerged – climate change is happening now and we are responsible.
If we continue to conduct business-as-usual we may precipitate dangerous and unexpected
changes to our climate by the end of the century. By then such changes may be irreversible.
(1) Statement by WMO, UNEP, and Environment Canada at The Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security Conference, Toronto, June 1988.
(2) Sir John Houghton, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, July 2003.
(3) President Bill Clinton at the Russian Duma, June 2000.
(4) International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
(5) Sir David King, Chief Scientist, January 2004.
(6) Prime Minister Tony Blair, September 2004.
We have been warned. Its time to act.
Councillor Margaret Rogers BA(Hons) PCE AcDIP Ed
Devon County Council
Executive Member for the Environment