NJPN Comment in the Catholic Universe: ‘Celebrate climate success’ – By Paul Donovan

There is much gloom and doom spoken about the demise of the planet, with the growing threats of climate change and pollution. The challenges are great, make no mistake, but there comes a time to celebrate the successes.

Amongst the good news has been the growth of the renewable energy sector.

This has often been due to individuals, schools, parishes and companies having solar panels on their roofs. The power generated from wind energy has also grown hugely over the past decade, with turbines on land and in the seas.

The advance of renewable energy was given even greater impetus by the Paris Climate Agreement of 2016 but make no mistake it has been a people driven revolution. Recent UK governments have done little to help in this area, with the present Conservative administration positively hostile to renewable energy – as evidenced in the last budget, which took subsidies away from the sector.

The efforts at community level to cut pollution and emissions has been evidenced across the land, with schools often at the forefront. One example in East London has been Beal High school, which won the school of the region award from Transport for London for its efforts over the past year to cut car journeys and promote more sustainable forms of travel. The award was made as part of the Mayor of London’s Sustainable Travel: Active Responsible Safe (STARs) programme. The programme encourages people not to drive to school, promoting instead walking cycling and other sustainable forms of travel instead. The school managed to cut car journeys to the school from 17% in 2016 to 13% in 2017. At the same time the number of pupils walking to school increased from 53% to 64%.

On a less optimistic note, one area that seems to be distinctly lagging behind, when it comes to cleaning up its act, is the aviation industry. Aircraft often seem to be the forgotten part of the pollution/climate change equation, but make no mistake aircraft are a major contributor to pollution in all its forms – including sound. The aviation industry generates 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. The policy approach being taken to aviation in the UK mirrors that of the failed predict and provide approach taken on the roads in the 1990s. The most obvious manifestation is the expansion of airport capacity. It is strange to see politicians, who are quite happy to tackle car pollution, advocating airport expansion. It is as though the penny really hasn’t dropped yet.

If we are serious about tackling climate change and pollution, then building more airports is not the answer. Not only do aircraft create pollution but there is the additional car traffic brought into the airport as well to consider. Airports become polluting hubs. Addressing aircraft pollution really does need prioritising. There is no tax on aviation fuel, which amounts to a subsidy for air travel over other forms of transport. Aircraft operators need to be made to pay for the pollution and climate damage they are causing. They need to start showing some social responsibility to the communities which they seek to serve.

Finally, as individuals we all need to look at our use of air travel. In reality, everyone needs to fly a lot less, if pollution and climate damage are to be addressed.

So, there is much that individuals are doing alone and working in community to combat the threats of climate change and pollution. There is still much to do, as the aviation example shows, but it is important to remember that it is not all bad news on the environmental front.