Pierhead Sessions: Monbiot calls for a carbon negative Wales

March 15, 2010 2 Comments »

Nothing inspires apathy quite like a call to arms. That’s the dilemma faced by George Monbiot, whose life’s work has been devoted to alerting the public to the dangers posed by climate change, but who recently lamented that “the more clearly you spell the problem out, the more you turn people away”. How, then, to drum up support for his Pierhead lecture’s most fascinating proposal: that Wales could – and should – be the first carbon negative country in the world.

Monbiot was speaking at The Pierhead Sessions, Cardiff Bay, on Friday 5th March. Jane Davidson, the Welsh Assembly minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, introduced him, presumably to underline the Welsh Assembly’s commitment to tackling climate change. He touched on the Assembly government’s admirable performance so far, but his lecture had its sights set firmly on global solutions – with Wales leading the way.

The initial thrust of Monbiot’s lecture was directed at public attitude towards climate change, which he characterised as “reactive denial”, identifying a parallel “between our attitudes to climate change and our attitudes to death”. They were precisely the sort of apocalyptic comments that infuriate his detractors, but they were supported by sobering statistics: “Even an 80 percent cut by 2020 won’t reverse global warming” he said at one point, to hushed gasps.

He commented on the complexity of the science placing climate change beyond the understanding of most people, and touched upon a few red herrings: biofuels and photovoltaic solar panels, which he argued represent “a soft option” in the battle to halt climate change. This is all stuff we’ve heard before, but Monbiot’s evenly paced delivery provided a sharp contrast to the diatribes he is occasionally guilty of penning, Questions were few.

Still, when somebody mentioned China we did get a glimpse into Monbiot’s thoughts on who had ruined Copenhagen. Monbiot argued that China was a useful scapegoat for the other nations in the room, who were none too keen to commit to any kind of targets whatsoever. Since deadlock has characterised negotiations ever since, the question was raised of whether any of us could do anything at all to persuade the world leaders to play ball.

That was where Monbiot came back to his first point: that Wales – a country once at the forefront of the industrial revolution – could become the first carbon negative country, sending a powerful message to the rest of the world. This would mean that Wales’s energy output from renewable sources would exceed its overall consumption of energy, and would require substantial investment in alternative energy sources. Jane Davidson was asked (fairly) amicably to make it happen, and through a burst of nervous laughter she graciously promised to do the “number crunching” to see what could be done.

She had every right to be nervous, though. The campaign against climate change is surely the first to fight to restrict freedom and growth rather than allow it. Backed by conclusive but overwhelmingly complicated science, and an increasingly apathetic audience, it would be a difficult task indeed to persuade voters to share Monbiot’s vision.

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2 Comments

  1. Peter_D_Cox March 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    Good coverage of an excellent event. I suspect that Jane Davidson, the person, would have jumped at the idea of a carbon negative Wales. Sadly, she's a politician too.
    We need people like her though to seize the initiative – world changing events rarely happen through public demand. They need leadership. And being unpopular isn't where politicians are at just now ….

  2. guest March 22, 2010 at 8:28 am - Reply

    Monoblot is a bloody fool who believes the lies and nonsense of millionaire Al Gore! Who has made a fortune peddling this warmist scam to credulous idiots. Lets all live back in the stone age!

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