Dr Nick Hawker, Founder of Oxford-based fusion energy start-up First Light Fusion, believes the speed with which we have adapted to COVID shows we can also make the changes needed to tackle the climate crisis head on. And the UK’s science leadership can play a key role. Here's his call to arms:
“The COVID crisis has shown that we can all make rapid changes to our lifestyle – this should give us confidence we can make the changes needed to face the climate crisis too.
And for the UK, we have an opportunity to build something fantastic as we recover.
Last week I attended the launch of “Countdown”, a new global initiative hosted by TED*, the nonprofit organisation devoted to spreading ideas, to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis.
Countdown is a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis, turning ideas into action.
The event was a timely reminder that while we may all support sentiments around a prospective and hoped for “green recovery” – it is direct action, not words that is needed to tackle this.
Some of the evidence shared at the launch bears repeating.
COVID is our focus now, but make no mistake, the near term danger of the climate crisis is real.
Swedish professor Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre talked of the systems that regulate the climate and their tipping points.
Arctic sea ice, Siberian permafrost, the ice on Greenland, our burning forests. The list goes on. Nine of the 15 systems that regulate the climate are moving.
So the prognosis is not good but the message is clear, we must halve global emissions by 2030.
Climate and data scientist Angel Hsu talked about extreme heat that will affect over 1000 cities.
Heat waves are projected to lead to deaths at the same rate as all infectious diseases combined, disproportionately impacting non-white communities and nations.
Africa will face some of the worst effects of climate change, yet the entire country of Senegal, for example, uses less energy than Californians playing video games.
This is why we must act, there is a moral imperative on us.
And we have never been better placed.
In one year we have a global opportunity as hosts of COP26.
Pledges from COP21, from Paris in 2015, need updating. It’s not just about net zero by 2050, this is just one point on a curve, the carbon budget is what matters.
Unless we halve emissions by 2030, net zero by 2050 won’t matter, the budget will be gone.
Another important issue, often ignored, is what we do after 2050.
All climate models show a need for huge negative emissions in the second half of this century.
We can only ignore that for so long.
The UK can be a leader and driver of change. We have the political opportunity, we also have the talent, the skills and the industry.
Ambition is key.
My industry, fusion, is an area where the UK has a genuine chance to lead the world.
Fusion energy is clean and inexhaustible.
And as a recent paper we have published shows, it can be cost competitive with renewables.
We are just one small effort in a group of true world beaters.
All three of us span out from an academic base with incredible breadth and depth of talent. It’s not rhetoric, we are science superpower.
We need to be bold and back the revolutionary ideas.
Government can invest for the long term, and it can do it without having to make complex risk judgements. Ask the people with the ideas to bring in private funding and match it.
And this brings me back to COVID.
COVID has shown that governments can respond to a crisis and makes things happen quickly. COVID has also shown that society can adapt.
Who would have thought that six months ago, we would all accept the wearing of masks or the other huge behavioural changes we have made to get through this pandemic.
If you can wear a mask, if you can work from home, you can do something for the climate.
It not just about a “green recovery”. Let’s begin a green revolution.
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*TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.