Here we go again – the COP26 Glasgow climate conference

3rd November 2021 Environment & Wildlife, Politics No Comments

Here we go again. The COP26 climate conference starts this November in Glasgow, where the world’s politicians will, once again, pretend to care about the world’s climate for a few days, sign an agreement for commitments due far into the future, before heading back to their own countries on their private jets to boast how green and environmentally-friendly they are.

This is nothing new, of course. Politicians have been holding conferences that go broadly the same way as I described above for years.

But now isn’t the time for lots of words and no action.

In the past two years, there have been multiple wildfires and serious natural disasters due to record-hot temperatures across the world – from Greenland to Australia, with each of them breaking more records than the last.

Don’t get me wrong, I like warm and sunny summers as much as the next person. But this is ridiculous. Temperatures regularly reaching 35°C each summer in Britain? Wildfires in Scotland? This isn’t natural!

A wildfire in Western Scotland in 2019.

The timings of the seasons in Britain has also become stranger in recent years. Many people, including myself, think that this is down to climate change. I am writing this near the end of September, yet the deciduous trees haven’t even started to change colour. Transitions between other seasons have also become blurred in recent years.

At times, you turn on the news, see the latest natural disaster unfolding, you may feel hopeless and powerless, thinking there is nothing being done or little you can do to solve this problem.

But that’s where you’re wrong.

There are many projects around the world that are solving the problems caused by climate change. Many of these have been organised by private companies, charities or community groups.

Carbon capture machine

For years, politicians and scientists alike have been discussing the need for carbon capture. In a nutshell, carbon dioxide is sucked out of the air and stored underground. This year, a start-up in Iceland has turned on it’s carbon capture machine which can suck out and store 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – equivalent to the emissions of 870 cars! It cost the companies involved – Climeworks and Carbfix – $15 million (£11 million) to build. That is expensive, but once a technology works (think smartphones and solar panels) the price can only go down.

An image of one of the carbon capture machines at the Orca plant in Iceland. Image: Climeworks

Plastic made of… seaweed?

Yes, you read that correctly. One company based in Scarborough, SeaGrown, is growing offshore seaweed that can be made into plastics. You may have already seen flavoured seaweed being sold in supermarkets, but this is taking it to another level. Because seaweed doesn’t require any chemicals or much land, and because it absorbs carbon from the air, it is a perfect alternative to create plastics – and many other items – with.

Electric cars

Electric cars have received a lot of hype lately for being one of the major ways that we can reduce our carbon emissions. There have been many startup companies that made electric cars and batteries, from Tesla to Britishvolt.

Although prices for electric cars are still really high, they are lower than they were 5 years or even a decade ago, and they will continue to decrease in price. Whilst there are issues with the mining of materials that are needed to make the parts of electric cars, there are solutions, with Tesla co-founder JB Straubel setting up a business to recycle lithium batteries.

Until recently, established car companies haven’t allocated much money or time to electric cars. That changed when Volkswagen said that they would be ramping up electric car research, development and production by spending €80 billion (£68 billion) on it.

Buying local produce

We all keep being told to keep buying local produce, but let’s face it, we all go to the supermarkets whenever we need a slice of bread or a pint of milk. But there is an easy way to easily buy local produce: go to your local market. If you want to find when and where your local market is, just search “[your village/town/city] market”. If you’re struggling to find one, first try your village or town name, then work your way up. But if that doesn’t work, just search “markets near me” or look for your local farmer’s shop.

Buying local produce is one of the easiest ways you can help the environment. Local food tends to have been grown in a more environmentally-friendly away and travels less than food grown elsewhere in the UK. It also helps the local economy, with the money you spend used to hire local people to do local jobs.

There are some innovative ways that people have come up with on how to grow or sell food locally. In this video by the Financial Times, a restaurant critic and a journalist go to see two innovative businesses trying to make their food come from local suppliers – or even by growing it themselves! It’s 13 minutes long and I found the video really interesting!

Make cities hedgehog-friendly again

A healthy climate cannot live without healthy wildlife. That’s why there are many community-led projects on making urban areas wildlife-friendly. One such project – called Hedgehog Streets – is making towns and cities hedgehog-friendly. According to the counter on their website’s front-page, over 100,000 people have pledged to make their streets more hedgehog-friendly.

Things that the project suggest doing include:

  • putting out food and water for hedgehogs
  • making homes for hedgehogs out of logs and other natural materials
  • linking gardens and other communal areas together so hedgehogs can safely move between habitats
  • creating a wild corner in a garden or park

Since the project began, multiple universities have signed up to become Hedgehog Friendly: including the universities of Suffolk, Bristol and Kent.

Hydrogen planes and trucks

You may have seen an electric car or two, but what about electric trucks? Or electric planes? Because of the weight of the lithum-ion batteries that store electricity, it is unlikely that we will be seeing electric trucks and planes taking over our roads anytime soon (although Tesla announced one in November 2017). An alternative fuel is therefore needed to power these giant machines. Hydrogen is the main solution to this as it is easy to source and can be used in a similar way to how petrol and diesel are currently used.

There are already companies testing and building hydrogen planes. As with any technology, it starts small, but over time, it can be applied to large jets and eventually passenger planes.

One of the three hydrogen-powered planes that Airbus has proposed. Credit: Airbus

Conclusion

There are things that we can do – and are being done – to save our climate from being permanently damaged. Companies, charities and communities around the world are taking action. But it will take time for some of these solutions to take effect and for innovations to take place.

In the meantime, it is the simplest of actions (recycling, flying less, using public transport) that will have the most effect, especially as more and more people change how they conduct their lives in order to save the planet.

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