Energy expert Peter Gudde is looking for some clear and objective messaging from the government about future energy needs
As we approach the international climate summit COP26 at Glasgow in November, things are definitely hotting up not only in the literal sense but also in the rhetoric used in some of the news media.
I have never been comfortable with the approaches and language used in some media coverage about climate change. I am also in that scribblers’ camp and have committed the cardinal sin of reporting bias in the past. But, irrespective of whether its online or in ink, a red top or broadsheet, from the left or right of political leanings, some of the stuff that is written can fail the objectivity test.
In an attempt to create a sensational headline grabber, the author has boiled down a complex issue to a simple yes or no, ‘is it, or isn’t it?’, storyline ignoring the weight of evidence or the science community’s sceptical objectivity in search of the truth. Strange how science and data has become so important during the pandemic when, in some quarters, science and its ability to advance human understanding is disregarded.
Take the climate headlines over the last couple of weeks. We had one national daily paper saying that the lack of good weather this summer was evidence that the climate boffins had got it wrong. Another paper published a story that using hydrogen as a home heating fuel could cause four times more explosions than the gas we currently use, ignoring the fact that its use in the home will have to pass stringent safety regulations just like mains gas.
That same daily then ran with a story about the Climate Minister who was quoted saying that heat pumps were worse than gas boilers for heating up homes, suggesting it was new, immature technology. Maybe he did and maybe we don’t have many heat pumps heating our homes, but the technology is everywhere and extremely reliable and cost-effective in the right place; look at your fridge.
Then another daily led on Government Treasury concerns about the cost of dealing with climate change, appearing to ignore the fact that the cost of not doing anything could be far higher and have great impact for us or that the opportunities created if we invest in a lower carbon, more climate resilient society could lead to more jobs in this country if we get it right.
Although there is a lot of really good reporting out there, it is really hard to maintain a clear personal perspective when every day the storyline changes. We could all be forgiven for being confused to the extent that we choose either to do little or become cynical about the whole climate thing.
Lack of space in this column will save you from reading my efforts to provide a clearer, hopefully more balanced commentary on these issues. Suffice to say that in my view good communication, setting things in context based on sound evidence is almost everything. Some approaches to tackling climate change may be right for the short term or in certain situations. In time, they may well be replaced with better solutions as things change and our understanding develops.
Heat pumps, for example, may be the solution for many homes that are well insulated. But some of the current challenges are preventing their uptake; the up-front cost, a lack of high-quality installers and some disruption during installation included. That does not mean that we should write-off this technology, since those factors we see as barriers today can be overcome and the information we currently rely on to make our decisions will be different tomorrow. Neither should hydrogen as a heating fuel be disregarded as it may well be the right solution in some towns and cities although there are still lots of hurdles to overcome before we see a mass market.
It is notable that, unlike the volatility of media coverage over the years around climate change, the long-term view of the UK citizen has shown both stability and movement towards the scientific evidence. Public attitudes have shifted significantly over the last decade from questioning whether climate change is a thing to asking what actions an individual can take in a changing climate. The run-up to COP26 could, therefore, be used as a great opportunity to define our country’s way forward in the world while presenting clear and objective messages through whatever media about some of the practical steps each of us can take to tackle climate change.
For more information about COP26 visit https://ukcop26.org/
The PlanetMark Zero Carbon bus tour will be calling at the University of Suffolk in Ipswich on September 1. Visit https://www.uos.ac.uk/events/zero-carbon-tour for details on how to attend the event.
-- Peter Gudde is an energy adviser and environmental reasearcher