Norman Crowley: It is time that we approached the challenge of climate change with a sense of opportunity and optimism, rather than guilt and drudgery
Published 26/11/2015 | 02:30
I often wonder why we, as a species, do so little about addressing climate change.
This is a threat that 97pc of the world's leading scientists agree will ultimately destroy the way we live.
According to the Tyndall Institute for Climate Research, it will make life "incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community".
Perhaps the lack of action is because, as Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert says, our brains are not designed to respond to large, slow-moving threats such as climate change.
Instead, our brains are more of a "get out of the way" machine, he notes. To avert disaster, it seems we have to get so many things right, and make so many unpalatable changes, that we just don't know where to start.
Governments are best positioned to handle such a crisis of global proportions. However, governments who operate on a four- to five-year election cycle have proven to be less than effective in handling a problem which was first flagged more than 40 years ago.
Since 1972, we have had five major climate conferences - and yet carbon levels continue to rise.
We are at a major turning point in our battle against CO2. In order to understand this, we should look at how we tried to handle climate change in the past.
This has involved advising people to lower the thermostat a few degrees and wear a sweater in the house. When we rise in the morning, we are supposed to put up with a lukewarm shower, because solar heating struggles to reach 30C on a cloudy morning.
We are supposed to use tiny electric cars with a range of just 100km to get to work. In order to wash our clothes, we should use eco washing powder.
In our homes we are supposed to install curious looking CFL bulbs that ruin our fancy light fittings.
Even our diets need to change, and we need to stop consuming high carbon meats and move towards a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Is it any wonder that we haven't moved to more sustainable lifestyles?
But much of this advice has since been rendered obsolete by advances in technology. We can now access almost all of the world's knowledge from a piece of plastic in our hand, and therein the solution may lie.
In 2015, in order to reduce our heating bills by 40pc cent, we simply need to install a sleek iPhone-type thermostat.
We can commute to work in electric cars that are sleek, quiet and 11 times cheaper to run.
We can now wash our clothes in washing machines that use 90pc less washing powder, and we can run them at night when electricity is cheaper and more sustainable.
We can now go to any hardware shop and purchase a bulb that looks exactly like the one we always used, but uses 90pc less energy.
Solar electricity production costs have also dropped by as much as 80pc in the last six years, and will continue to fall as improvements mean it is now sensible to install - even in rainy old Ireland.
Even our high-carbon steak is under threat from the technological revolution, as Google - not content with taking over most of our lives - have now developed a zero-carbon synthetic meat that allegedly tastes better than the real thing.
I see these innovations first hand, as we work with some of the largest industrial companies in the world - and succeed in reducing their oil consumption by up to 90pc while improving production output.
This is done by installing smart sensors that cost just 1pc of what they used to just 20 years ago.
So does all that mean that we can sit back and let technology handle the most significant threat in our world today?
No. We do have a responsibility. While there have been many improvements, there are still many threats that technology has not yet found a solution for.
But we must begin to believe that we can solve this threat. Maybe it's time to approach climate change with opportunity and optimism, rather than guilt and drudgery? Norman Crowley is
CEO of Crowley Carbon