Expert warns on catastrophe we all face

CLIMATE change is a fact and it's here to stay. Seas are already rising, the ice caps are melting and temperatures are rising across the world. If we don't do something soon about our polluting behaviour then catastrophe faces mankind.

James Marston

CLIMATE change is a fact and it's here to stay.

Seas are already rising, the ice caps are melting and temperatures are rising across the world.

If we don't do something soon about our polluting behaviour then catastrophe faces mankind.

Today JAMES MARSTON meets an expert who is practising what he preaches.

IN 2003 Europe sweltered through the hottest summer on record.

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As temperatures soared across the continent and as the mercury kept on rising, we got our first taste of what the future is going to be like.

By 2050 the summer of 2003 will be an average summer and by 2080 one in ten days in the South of England will have an average temperature of 30 degrees centigrade over a 24 hour period.

Sitting at his kitchen table in East Bergholt, Dr Chris Tuppen paints a worrying picture.

He said: “Those statistics are what we cannot do anything about. The past emissions of carbon, that which has already happened, will bring about this change.

“There is no doubt now that the world's climate is changing. We are seeing floods in the UK, ice fields melting and disappearing in the Arctic and Antarctic and we are seeing sea levels rising through the coral islands of Tuvalu. The North Sea surges that happened in November last year should be unusual but they will become more and more frequent.

“If you look at the Thames barrier, which was built in 1983, 50 percent of the times that it has been used have been in the last five years.”

For a 53 year old father-of-two climate change is his field of expertise.

Recently named in one study as one of the 50 people in the world that can prevent the world from disaster, Dr Tuppen is the director of sustainable development with one of the UK's largets companies - British Telecom.

He said: “BT uses 0.7 percent of the UK's electricity which is a substantial amount of energy and as a large organisation we have a significant impact on the environment.”

With one of the largest property portfolios in the UK and one of the largest vehicle fleets, BT set up it's first environmental systems and policies back in the early 1990s.

Chris said: “I started as environment manager back in 1990. Then climate change and the environment had been an issue for the chemical, oil and energy sectors - not many other companies were thinking about it.

“It is a very different landscape today. If you buy a packet of Walker's crisps today you can see on the packet details of the carbon emissions used to get the product to the shelves.

“Certain foods in Tesco have an aeroplane symbol on them so you know it has been flown in. Consumer awareness is much higher and the phrase “carbon footprint” is part of everyday language.”

But knowing a bit more about climate change and doing something about it are two different things.

Chris said the problem is getting more and more urgent.

He said: “Experts are now worried about what is called catastrophic climate change.”

He explained what this means.

“The snow in the arctic is melting into the sea so there is less snow to absorb and reflect that sunlight. As more snow is melted the planet warms up and as it warms up more snow is melted - it quickly becomes a cycle.

“In the wilderness of Alaska, Canada and Siberia there is a huge amount of methane gas trapped in the permafrost. If this starts warming up the gas will escape.

“Methane is a much worse global warming gas than carbon dioxide. It would be a tipping point and a catastrophe for the planet but it is not predestined, it is avoidable.”

But what does it mean if we don't manage to avoid it?

Chris said: “If it were to happen we would experience even more sever weather conditions. The Gulf Stream may be cut off rather like the film The Day After Tomorrow, though I doubt it would happen as fast as that but it would have a dramatic affect on the climate with much colder winters, though exactly what will happen no one knows for sure.”

Chris firmly believes that it is better not to wait to find out.

He added: “When you start playing around with nature and the climate something has to snap eventually. It is preventable but we have to act immediately. It is thought we have about five to ten years to stop it.”

“At the recent Bali conference the proposals that didn't get agreed were to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 50per cent against 1990 levels. That measure is considered to have a 50-50 chance of success of preventing catastrophic climate change and that proposal didn't happen.”

Chris said to avoid the catastrophic scenario the UK and other developed countries would need to reduce our CO2 emissions by 80pc of what they were in 1990.

He added: “We need to change how we live our lives, what heat we use, lighting, electricity and fuel for transport - reduce it all by about a third - and if we want to achieve that we need to start now. It's no good waiting.”

Though the picture maybe bleak Chris is cautiously optimistic.

He said: “We can still achieve what needs to be done. A lot of the technology we need to achieve it is in place. We need the leadership, political and industrial, to make it happen.

“We can all make a decision about the future of the planet by what we buy, how we live our lives and how we vote.”

Chris gave a few pointers that would have a dramatic effect on our carbon emissions.

Insulation and lighting - “If all homes were properly insulated and used more effective light bulbs then it would mean a significant improvement on our total emissions and it would be 10pc of the total savings we need to make by 2020.

Temperature - “Our houses are hotter than ever, turn the heating down and this would have a huge impact.”

Green Electricity - “Use electricity companies that sources its power from wind farms or catching gas from landfill sites.”

Travelling and transport - “Nearly a quarter of the UK's total CO2 emissions are from fuel burnt for transport. We need to travel in more efficient ways. Using public transport where necessary and in business we can use technology to reduce the need to travel. In BT last year we avoided 850,000 face to face meetings and saved 97,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. We also avoided travel costs of more than £200million.”

Chris said many of the measures we can employ also save the UK money.

He said BT has reduced its CO2 emissions by 60pc since 1996.

He added: “There is no reason why other companies cannot do the same, particularly for office based companies or the service sector.”

At hiss own home in the sleepy village of East Bergholt, Chris has made some changes.

He said: “All our electricity comes from renewable sources. We have insulated the loft up to ten inches of insulation. We have installed energy efficient light bulbs and we collect rain water for the garden.

“We have a Toyata Yaris diesel which emits 119g per kilometre of CO2, does 60 miles to the gallon and is in the lowest tax bracket.”

On the roof of the house there are solar panels used to heat the building's hot water supply and inside there is a smart meter which displays electrical consumption.

Chris said: “As a family the largest proportion of our carbon footprint is from flying. We have got down to one carbon intensive holiday a year.”

Are you concerned about climate change? Are you prepared to change your life for the environment? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

It takes one ton of carbon dioxide to make one ton of concrete.

America accounts for nearly 20per cent of global CO2 emissions, Britain for 2pc.

Since 1990 emissions based on fuel use at the UK's international airports have more than doubled.

The global atmosphere carries an estimated 3,000 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide - a gigatonne is a billion metric tonnes.

August 10 2003 was the UK's hottest day on record. IN Faversham, in Kent the mercury rose to 38.5 celcius - the first time in 300 years or records that Britain topped the 100f mark.

By September 2003 more than 40,000 Europeans had died as a result of the heat wave - 900 in the UK.

In 1896 swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius calculated that a doubling of carbon dioxide could warm the planet.

In 1991 Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines cooling the earth by about 0.2C (0.36f) for two years.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a temperature rise of between 1.1C (2f) and 6.4C (11.1f) by 2080 compared to 1980-1999.

In a modern home up to 15pc of power is consumed by devices being left on standby.