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24 April 2010

Is There a Silver Lining in the Volcanic Ash Cloud?

Tag(s): Sustainability

             On 21st March an Icelandic volcano, dormant for 200 years, erupted, tearing a 1km-long fissure in a field of ice. The volcano near Eyjafjallajoekull glacier began to erupt just after midnight, sending lava a hundred metres high. By 15th April the volcanic ash plume had reached British airspace which was then closed to all air traffic because of the risk to jet engines. A combination of prevailing winds and a ridge of high pressure conspired to keep the ash cloud over the United Kingdom and much of Europe. British airspace was not opened until 21st April disrupting the plans of thousands of travellers trying to return home after Easter holidays. At the University where I am a Governor an estimated 500 out of 20,000 students were delayed in their return to the University. In the school where I am an Associate Governor 16 members of staff were affected disrupting teaching schedules at the beginning of the key summer term. All of us know stories of people affected and I personally know of people held up in Laos, China and Kathmandu!

While I sympathise with all those affected and know that it could easily have been me or members of my family I am concerned about the attempts to apportion blame, to get the government (i.e. the taxpayer) to pay and particularly the absurd European laws that seek to make the airline responsible for all the consequent hotel bills. The reality is that we have all come to assume that we have a right to fly off to anywhere in the world at the click of a credit card and get to the theme parks on the other side of the oceans in a few hours. We fly flowers and salads and berries around. I fully expected a bout of panic buying of fresh flowers to break out.

This is a time to reflect on the alternatives that may be forced on us in time. For a week our skies were beautifully clear. As I look out my window this Saturday morning the flights have resumed and the sky is hazy with vapour trails.  At least one major corporation, Cisco, has placed a ban on internal travel to meetings. This has reduced its annual travel bill by $250million, a third of the total and has improved the quality of life of its senior executives.


At the recent Marketors’ Spring lunch the speaker was Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth, now an independent sustainability and environment adviser. He acts as special adviser to The Prince of Wales’ Rainforest Project and is Senior Associate with the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership. He is an experienced eco warrior who has been at the heart of previous successful campaigns: the ban on hydro fluorocarbons when it was discovered they were causing a hole in the ozone layer; the ban on DDT and the subsequent recovery of many species of birds and animals; and the dissipation of acid rain. But the solutions to these problems all depended on technology substitution.
Climate change is a much greater challenge, more complex and not capable of one solution. We can’t ban carbon dioxide; it’s an integral part of the ecosphere.

Greenhouse gases threaten the atmosphere which is very thin. Tony gave a memorable image that it is like a coat of gloss on a football. If you could walk out from the earth you would walk through the atmosphere in 2 hours.

Copenhagen was a political train wreck brought down by inadequate preparation and the following of parochial agendas. But he finally called to the marketing profession which can be part of the solution as it needs the skills of persuasion and communication to bring about change. Tony Juniper is the Green Party candidate in Cambridge at this year’s parliamentary election and you can see his website at http://www.tonyjuniper.com

Our Middle Warden, John Flynn’s reply referred to Juniper’s book How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take To Change A Planet? which contains 95 points (Martin Luther’s 95 theses?) No 93 relates to advertising. The Rules of the Advertising Standards Authority about “Honest, decent, legal and truthful” are not sufficient when we must consider sustainability. John said that the paper industry is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions, three times that of air travel.

Everyone's looking for something to do about climate change. What’s needed 
is something straightforward, immediate and meaningful. I think I've found 
it.

Last week I joined thousands of individuals and organisations from across the 
country to unite behind one simple idea: that by working together we can 
achieve a 10% cut in carbon emissions during 2010. Its called 10:10, and 
everyone can be a part of it.

Cutting 10% in one year is a bold target, but for most of us it’s an 
achievable one, and is in line with what scientists say we need right now. 
By signing up to 10:10 we’re not just promising to reduce our own emissions 
– we’re becoming part of a national drive to hit this ambitious goal 
country-wide. In our homes, in our workplaces, our schools and our 
hospitals, our galleries and football clubs and universities, we’ll be 
backing each other up as we take the first steps on the road to becoming a 
low-carbon society.

To find out more and sign up go to
www.1010uk.org

Copyright David C Pearson 2010 All rights reserved




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