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Zealots are the last people you should rely on in an emergency

Paul Finch

The embarrassing spasms of the Extinction Rebellion brigade are a reminder that zealots are the last people you should rely on when what you need is analysis, diagnosis and prognosis, writes Paul Finch

Sir David King, former government chief scientist, has forgotten more about climate change and its implications than most of us know. It was therefore encouraging to hear his cogent propositions about mitigation, rather than pretending that the UK can make any serious difference to global warming in addition to what we are already committed to doing.

The embarrassing spasms of the Extinction Rebellion brigade, determined to hate anything British, rather than focusing on countries making the big differences (China and India), are a reminder that zealots are the last people you should rely on when what you need is analysis, diagnosis and prognosis. 

What Sir David’s unit at Cambridge University is proposing is positive mitigation, given the apparent inevitability of global temperature rises in the coming decades. To an extent, we are already in the mitigation game, with our flood defence programme and the (to me, suspect) decision to abandon large chunks of the east coast to sea erosion. No doubt we will eventually get around to building a second Thames flood barrier.

This is accepting of what is coming our way; Sir David is talking about reversing it. Hence the ideas that have generated huge publicity, including spraying salt water into the atmosphere to create a sun filter, leading to the re-freezing of melting ice caps at the Arctic and Antarctic. These sorts of ideas tend to be dismissed by gloom-and-doom merchants, who want us all to suffer by making us eat insects and banning us from flying (obviously exempting arch-phoney Emma Thompson). 

But why not exercise human ingenuity? We have already discovered a way of generating non-carbon-generating energy, but the same hair-shirt gang hate nuclear power, too. They prefer chaos in the whole of central London rather than going over to France and complaining about all those nuclear facilities on which we depend for our energy in times of shortage. 

I am sceptical about the nostrums now being proposed by people of a Puritan disposition

This is probably because they know the French police would be rather more robust, to put it mildly, than the hapless Met and its even more hapless political leadership.

But action is required. King gave an alarming talk at an AJ conference in the 1990s about global temperature increases and the strong evidential relationship to man-made activity. Ever since, I have been all in favour of precautionary policies in respect of carbon generation. However, I am sceptical about many of the nostrums now being proposed by people of a Puritan disposition, who want to take us back to a command-and-control economy complete with ration books for food, travel, and direct energy consumption.

All this is a big architectural issue, partly because of the importance of buildings and construction in respect of carbon generation, but more importantly because our future actions need a synthesis of different approaches – dealing, for example, with both dearth and glut of water and with increasing demand for energy (all those laptops, pilot lights, etc). 

Architects should be joining with engineers and scientists in collaborative initiatives looking at the environment in the round.


Readers' comments (22)

  • Paul Finch sounds completely out of touch on this issue. Is this the AJ's official line?

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  • What a refreshing article inspiring so many responses both for and against. Of course it’s difficult, we need to raise our game, the obstacles are political not personal. But fair play to the AJ for printing it and for Paul to go beyond the noise and set out the big picture issues complex as they are. The world festival of architecture sends the wrong message. Time to reflect on that?

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