Balancing the scales of climate change

Our Director, Shaun Fitzgerald, has spent his whole career trying to tackle one of the root causes of climate change – mankind’s use of energy. Here he talks about what we can do to prevent climate change and recommends some future events on the subject.

  • Windfarm windmill by hills and trees

    Nicaraguan wind farm

    Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten (CC by-nc-nd)

Climate change is one of those things which has been in the news ever since I left school.

The problem is that the issue has gone through periods where the much of the media have been pressing hard on the story, and other relatively quiescent times where just the niche channels remain active. It is, however, one of the things which we can’t ignore and, irritating though it may seem to some, it isn’t going away.

I've spent my whole career focused on trying to help with one of the root causes – mankind’s use of energy. I see the energy issue as a simple set of scales. Demand on the one side and supply on the other. We can make changes to both sides of the scales, and that is important.

  • Shaun standing outside the Royal Institution

    Royal Institution Director, Shaun Fitzgerald

    Credit: Paul Wilkinson

On the demand side we can make advances to try and reduce our consumption in energy, by making buildings, transport and industry more efficient, and of course by changing our lifestyle. And on the supply side, we can develop renewable energy sources, or at least use schemes such as nuclear power which don’t lead to climate change, although of course some of these have other challenges.

Making changes to the energy balance on this set of scales requires investment, and this is where the brakes come – the speed of transition to a green economy is primarily one of financial resource and the appetite to invest. For example, we currently have a challenge regarding the number of people available to undertake jobs such as insulating all of our homes properly, which can be addressed with more investment in training.

The resulting imbalance of the timescales for the transition to a green economy and the effects of climate change mean that we also have to adapt to a changing climate. And these changes require yet further investment.

  • Arial view of flooded streets in Haiti

    Streets and pathways are flooded after the passing of Hurricane Tomas in Gonaives, north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

    Credit: UN Photo/UNICEF/Marco Dormino (CC by-nc-nd)

It means exploring whether we can mitigate the effects of climate change artificially – should we play with the weather for example by seeding particles to create more cloud cover? It also means adapting our cities to be able to cope with more extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

At the Royal Institution, we are keen to facilitate debate on all these issues, and so we are creating a series of events for 2019 to help with this.

If you are at all interested in discovering more about climate change and are able to attend, I would also recommend The Cambridge Climate Lecture Series, another wonderful initiative from the University of Cambridge.

See you there!

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