I have just completed a summer placement with ACT and my experience has filled me with hope, writes Finlay Heppell. It was a great learning opportunity for me and I met many knowledgeable and passionate people who all share the same goal of tackling the climate crisis in Teignbridge.
I contacted ACT after finding the website while searching for placement opportunities that would be relevant to my studies as a geography student at Bournemouth University. I got involved with both the Carbon Cutters and Wildlife Warden schemes ACT runs, as well as learning about how energy is used in Teignbridge and the psychology behind influencing/attracting people.
I attended several Carbon Cutter training sessions where I realised there is still a lot I do not know about carbon emissions and the climate emergency. One of the new things I learnt was the idea of reducing carbon emissions in an intelligent manner. A great tool that ACT has is a carbon footprint tracker that allows you to accurately work out your carbon footprint and explains how you can reduce it in a smart way. Using numbers is such a great way of helping people understand how to reduce their carbon emissions as numbers are often treated as fact.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience with the Carbon Cutter scheme as I learnt so much new information and it allowed me to get a bigger picture of what people/groups in Teignbridge district are doing to try and reduce carbon. As a young person myself it is really encouraging to know that lots is already happening in my local area
Carbon Cutters was set up to help address the climate emergency. The other scheme I participated in, Wildlife Wardens, focuses on the ecological emergency through helping nature. I learnt many practical skills, such as identifying types of plants and the impact that our carbon emissions are having on the environment in Teignbridge. My first experience of this was at a Wildlife Warden training session on Orley Common with the Devon Biodiversity Record Centre (DBRC). This session consisted of teaching Wildlife Wardens how to fill out a County Wildlife Site survey. This was a great introduction to how site surveying is done as I was around people who were very knowledgeable with regards to identifying plants.
On top of this training session, I attended an actual survey of a meadow in Trusham. This visit allowed me to assess how much of what I learnt had stuck, but more importantly, reinforced what I had learnt. I have learnt so many new things from these two sessions.
The other side of my experience with the Wildlife Warden scheme was focused more on working directly with wardens and helping out with their projects. This included researching information for an article on the health of the river Teign, clearing a flowerbed and planting wildflowers in Newton Abbot, and assisting with a nature trail project in Kingsteignton.
Another aspect of ACT which taught me a lot was learning about the psychology involved in working with the public. The Public Engagement group within ACT particularly considers this. It was an area I was interested in because I don’t have much of a psychology background, so a lot of the information was completely new.
The focus of this subject was to listen, understand, engage, and take action. The complexity of this topic was interesting as many things have to be considered when approaching people. The key takeaway for me was that evoking emotions in people is an essential part of enabling them to make changes, perhaps by overturning their cognitive biases. In this instance it would be changes related to cutting carbon.
The last part of my learning with ACT was the IT aspect, which included the gathering of data and creation of maps for the ACT website. This area was interesting as it tied in with a module that I had just finished at university. The module was about using Geographic Information Software (GIS) to gather data and create maps from it. Being involved with this side of ACT allowed me to see the real-world applications of what I had been learning at university.
As a young person it fills me with hope knowing that the district I live in has such a large and organised group tackling the climate crisis. The schemes cover a wide variety of problems, from ecological issues with the Wildlife Wardens, to how much carbon is being used through the Carbon Cutters scheme. On top of this, each scheme has further projects within it. This allows ACT to try and address multiple and diverse issues surrounding the climate crisis.
ACT is independent of Teignbridge District Council while still working closely with them and providing advice. The independence is important as it allows for much more freedom, and makes it easier to collaborate with many other smaller groups in the area.
In conclusion, my time with ACT was valuable both for what I learned and the people I met. I return to university feeling more hopeful about what we can all do to take action on the climate and ecological emergencies, especially if the ACT model is replicated throughout the country.
I counted at least 10 articles on climate change in one recent edition of the local paper, writes Amanda Cole. And that was without including those that referred to climate change within a wider piece. This suggests we really don’t need any more information about climate change and the devastating impacts it will have.
So why do I, as a psychologist, think there is room for another article? Psychologists have something to offer because we spend time trying to understand and make sense of human behaviour. We know around 80% of people are concerned about climate change. And yet, an average of only 10% of us is doing anything effective about it.
One reason for this is that we are much more motivated to do things that are likely to make us feel good than stay with bad feelings. Knowing that climate change is happening, and that governments aren’t doing enough about it, is bound to make us feel bad. In response, most of us either stop thinking about it, reassure ourselves we are doing all we can, such as recycling and reducing waste (and that this is effective and will reduce our carbon footprint), or believe that others (governments, businesses) are solely responsible for the solutions.
Unfortunately, that leaves us in the difficult position of being bombarded with facts about climate change, and experiencing the effects, like huge storms and flooding, but believing there is nothing more we can do about it. Understandably, and quite reasonably, this can lead us to feel anxious, hopeless, and sometimes depressed. There is evidence this is happening, especially, but not exclusively, among young people.
Is there a solution? Yes, more than one. For a start, we know that doing something new about climate change will lessen the emotional effects of doing nothing. Even more importantly, we are more likely to change our behaviour if we choose to do so rather than being told to by someone else. We are also more likely to stick with a change if we choose it ourselves.
Our choices need to fit with our circumstances, our lifestyles, and our values. We need to feel good about helping to make a difference, rather than seeing changes we make as a sacrifice or a loss of something. Feeling good makes it more likely we will go on to choose something else to change. It doesn’t matter if changes we make are big ones (switching to an electric car, investing in a heat pump) or small ones (driving less and more slowly, buying unpackaged and local food). What matters is that it makes us feel good.
Making changes can lead to unintended positive consequences, like being fitter or saving money. You may have experienced this when you changed your behaviour due to the pandemic. It may seem that being asked to think about the climate is yet more unwelcome pressure in tough times. And yet the things we can do to help generally tend to make the cost of living less, and will keep us healthier and happier. And it’s great to know for the future that renewable energy is now less expensive than energy generated from coal and gas.
Another powerful point is that we sometimes can’t see or measure the impact we are making, so we may go back to old habits. However, there is evidence from social scientists that our communities and our culture are changing as we move towards a more sustainable future.
Changes in society take time to document so don’t imagine your little bit is not making a difference. It is subtle, but just below the surface, our thinking, our behaviour and our values are shifting. We are moving towards ‘positive tipping points’ where ideas like eating fewer meat meals or flying less are becoming normal instead of ‘alternative’. These tipping points can be hugely influential on businesses and politicians, as well as on more vulnerable communities and societies where the freedom to choose is more limited.
So here is the main message. Don’t do nothing. Choose something you really WANT to change. And talk to people about it. Climate change won’t wait for us. The time to act is NOW.
Action on Climate in Teignbridge (ACT) has started a new community-based carbon cutting project designed to promote activities within Teignbridge that can actively help people to reduce their carbon footprint.
ACT has appointed Peta Howell to coordinate this project and recruit volunteer Carbon Cutters, as well as collaborate with other climate groups in Teignbridge to create an information hub and share ideas and initiatives. Existing climate groups have already shown interest in the project, and local people have also been in touch with lots of imaginative carbon-cutting plans.
Peta says, “I hope to forge good relationships with existing community groups and work alongside them to promote interesting activities that can help Teignbridge get a step closer to being carbon neutral. I see this as a unique opportunity for us all to learn from each other, create a hub of information and events, and collaborate on some exciting projects. I am also keen to hear about existing initiatives and to help promote them in whatever way I can.”
Peta is also keen to recruit enthusiastic, creative and self-motivated community-based volunteers to become ‘Carbon Cutters’, who aim to inspire and empower their local communities to reduce their carbon footprint through a variety of interesting projects.
“You don’t need any special experience to cut it as a Carbon Cutter,” says Peta. “You just need a passion for the planet, an interest in community collaboration and enthusiasm for cutting carbon emissions.”
Possible carbon-cutting projects include helping people to reduce their fuel bills, organising a tool and gadget bank or share scheme, planning a clothes swap or setting up a community larder. The possibilities are endless, and ACT is excited to get started on engaging with others on their thoughts and ideas, and working together to bring their ideas to fruition.
The project has been made possible thanks to Teignbridge District Councillors Alison Foden, Colin Parker and Andrew Swain, with support from Newton Abbot Town Council, which has worked hard to secure funding for the next six months.
Here is our February Newsletter covering the following topics:
Cutting carbon emissions: a new district-wide climate project.
Liaison meeting presentations.
Environmental & social health v Economic development.
The Home Energy Saving Forum – Sustainable Dawlish event.
Keeping the public informed and/or confused.
Did you know? (hopefully not).
Please feel free to send us details of any climate & nature stories, especially local ones or ones that lift the spirits.
Similarly keep telling the stories of why you care about the climate and nature to those who may not not appreciate the issues. You may be struggling to be less carbon intensive or more biophilic (had to look that up), so enlightening someone else to start their journey is a great alternative.
Here is our last Newsletter of 2021 covering the following topics:
Teignbridge District Council’s consultation on renewable energy.
Don’t Look Up – the Netflix movie.
ACT Wildlife Wardens.
House of commons – Wellbeing Economy debate.
With much fear, anxiety and frustration about it’s important to remember that staying in contact, sharing and supporting each other, is so important.
This is particularly relevant in the Climate & Nature Emergency where our “leaders”, the media and so called influencers are reluctant to address and participate in the action and guidance needed. By working together therefore and sharing information, ideas and kindness with others, we can make a difference.
Here is this month’s Newsletter dominated by two COPs, ie one more than you’ll see in the news. These and other topics covered are:
Devon-wide Retrofit survey.
COP26 is almost upon us.
The Convention on Biological Diversity and COP15.
A joint approach to Climate & Ecology.
The Devon Climate Assembly Report.
ACT Wildlife Wardens.
How to farm sustainably.
What more can we do about Climate Change?.
We’d really appreciate some feedback on the general depth, contents and structure of our newsletters. Do they match your needs, go over/under your head, what are we missing or overdoing? Please feel free to comment below or email Paul, with any thoughts and suggestions.
This month the UN’s IPCC published the first part of its 6th Assessment Report (AR6). Entitled The Physical Science Basis (for Climate Change) it was written by the IPCC’s Working Group l (WG1), comprising 700 authors from 66 countries, and involving the assessment of 14,000 peer-reviewed studies up to 31 January 2021.
Quoting the IPCC, the report; “assesses the current evidence on the physical science of climate change, evaluating knowledge gained from observations, reanalyses, palaeoclimate archives and climate model simulations, as well as physical, chemical and biological climate processes”.
There is actually no new science in AR6, it confirms what we already know and are seeing, but with more advanced methodologies and comprehensive data than was available for AR5 (2013). Consequently, there’s more granularity on the consequences and geographical impacts and its opinions are more robust, with greater degrees of certainty, and without the cautious language of the past.
The report itself runs to 4,000 pages but the IPCC has issued a 40 page “Summary for Policymakers” (SPM) each line of which has been agreed by representatives of the 195 member governments.
Three more reports associated with AR6 are due next year:
Working Group ll is set to publish Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability in February 2022.
Working Group lll is set to publish Mitigation of climate change in March 2022.
The IPCC will release a Synthesis Report, in September 2022, bringing together the findings of all three working groups.
It is now unequivocal that humans have warmed the planet, causing widespread and rapid changes to Earth’s oceans, ice and land surface, with the present state of many parts of the climate system being unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years.
Many of these changes, particularly to the oceans, ice sheets and global sea levels, are irreversible and abrupt changes and “tipping points”, such as rapid Antarctic ice sheet melt and forest dieback, cannot be ruled out.
The links between human-caused warming and the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, is now established as fact.
With increased global warming previously rare “compound” extreme events, eg a heat wave followed by fire or flood, will become more frequent and intense with longer durations.
Nowhere on the Planet is safe from the impacts of global warming.
In almost all emissions scenarios, global warming is expected to hit 1.5C (The Paris target for 2100) in the 2030s and, without reaching net-zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gases, the climate system will continue to warm.
Near-term emissions cuts can reduce the rate of unprecedented warming, and net-zero will work for stabilising or even reducing surface temperatures.
Models & Scenarios
The report uses the output from the latest generation of about 100 global climate models run by modelling groups around the world within five distinct scenarios (pathways) that describe how global society, demographics and economics might change in the future.
These recently developed scenarios, known as Shared Socio-economic Pathways (SSPs), have been used, with the models, to develop projections of energy use, air pollution control, land use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over this century but in the absence of new climate policies, beyond those already in place today..
For the purposes of the report the results were further categorised into bands of expected global warming effects (radiative forcing) at the end of the century, measured in Watts per square metre. This measurement represents the net amount of the sun’s energy being absorbed by the planet, ie the energy arriving from the sun, less the amount reflected back into space, say by atmospheric aerosols.
The report’s scenarios (chosen from 4 of the 5 SSPs) and their effects can be briefly described as follows, with each one showing the original SSP (SSP1, SSP2 etc) and its radiative forcing at the end of the century (1.9, 2.6 etc):
SSP1-1.9: After an initial overshoot, warming is held to approximately 1.5C above 1850-1900 in 2100 (2C is extremely unlikely to be exceeded) and implies net-zero CO2 emissions around the middle of the century.
SSP1-2.6: 2C warming is unlikely to be exceeded, with implied net-zero emissions in the second half of the century.
SSP2-4.5: Is approximately in line with the upper end of combined pledges from countries under the Paris Agreement. The scenario “deviates mildly from a ‘no-additional climate-policy’ reference scenario, resulting in a best-estimate warming around 2.7C by the end of the 21st century”.
SSP3-7.0: A medium-to-high reference scenario resulting from no additional climate policy, with “particularly high non-CO2 emissions, including high aerosols emissions”.
SSP5-8.5: A high reference scenario with no additional climate policy. Emissions this high are only achieved within the fossil-fuelled SSP5.
Whilst the authors are sceptical about the likelihood of SSP5-8.5, they say the projections “can still be valuable” and that the concentrations of greenhouse gases it contains “cannot be ruled out”.
The report says warming is very likely to be within ranges for each scenario so, for example, by 2081-2100, SSP1-1.9 has a range of 1.0-1.8C, SSP1-2.6: 1.3-2.4C and SSP5-8.5: 3.3-5.7C.
Here is a graph of all five pathways, using the report’s best estimates of target temperatures:
To put these temperature ranges into perspective the SPM points out (with medium confidence) that; “The last time global surface temperature was sustained at or above 2.5C higher than 1850–1900 was over 3m years ago.”
Given the weather extremes already being experienced at just over 1C and the uncertainty over the various tipping points, eg irreversible melting of land ice, ACT and most academics now consider SSP-1.9 the only, but still worst case, scenario worth considering.
Comparisons with the Paris Agreement & 1.5C
Following the Paris Agreement in 2015, and the pledge to “pursue efforts” to keep global warming below 1.5C (over pre-industrial levels), the IPCC published a special report on 1.5C (SR15) in 2018 that looked at questions including how close the world was to breaching the limit, what it would take to avoid doing so and what might happen if those efforts failed.
AR6 WG1 examines the first question and its findings are similar to SR15 however the SPM states that the predictions on when 1.5C is first breached are far more detailed in the AR6 than the SR15 and so are not directly comparable.
Nevertheless, AR6 states that :
“In all scenarios assessed here, except SSP5-8.5, the central estimate of crossing the 1.5C threshold lies in the early 2030s.”
Carbon Budgets and Net-Zero
A carbon budget is an estimate of the maximum amount of CO2 emissions that can still be released into the atmosphere before a particular temperature increase is reached. In accordance with the Paris Agreement the two key increases are 1.5C or 2C, since pre-industrial times (around 1870). Measurements are in Gigatonnes (one billion tonnes) of CO2 (GtCO2).
Temperature increases are roughly aligned with accumulating emissions and so scientists calculate the total emissions, that will result in say a 1.5C increase, and then deduct what has already been emitted since 1870, the difference is the remaining budget that we can emit before reaching the particular temperature threshold.
An important consideration is that, as we have already accumulated so much CO2, the amount left to emit is quite small and so is sensitive to differing assumptions in the calculations. It’s a bit like filling a bath to just below the brim and trying to estimate how long, and with what force, we can leave the taps running before it overflows whilst incorporating an estimate of the loss of water from a badly fitted plug.
The modelling results and statements carry a degree of uncertainty which are expressed in terms such as “extremely likely” and associated with a % likelihood. In AR6 they calculate that a 460GtCO2 budget would give the world a 50% chance of limiting the increase to 1.5C and 360GtCO2 a 67% chance (The budgets for a 2C increase, with the same probabilities are 1,310GtCO2 and 1,110GtCO2 respectively).
The world is currently emitting about 40GtCO2 a year which is why there is an urgent need for “substantial and sustained reductions”, with the next decade being crucial.
Scenarios are increasingly dependent upon the availability of facilities for CO2 removal (CDR), ie natural or industrial methods for removing CO2 from the atmosphere, and the report covers the effects of these in detail, including some negative side effects on land use, food production, water quality and biodiversity.
The reliance on “net” emissions has grown in recent years with SR15 calling for Net-Zero by around 2050, in other words making sure that, by that date, what the world is emitting is cancelled out by what the world is removing. AR6 WG1 has not changed this.
Whilst AR6 WG1 concentrates on CO2, as the primary source of human caused warming, it also considers the effects of “non-CO2” GreenHouse Gasses (GHG) both in terms of those that warm and those that cool. Reducing some warming non-CO2 GHG will be possible but they will not be eliminated and so the report states that additional CO2 removals will be necessary to compensate for these.
Given the inherent uncertainties ACT believes that we owe it to future generations not only to strive to hit Net-Zero well in advance of 2050, by concentrating on emission reductions rather than significant CO2 removals, but also to use the carbon budget most closely aligned with achieving at least a 67% chance of limiting temperature increase to 1.5C.
The report goes into detail over many other effects on the climate and environment, covering rainfall, ice cover, oceans (including sea level rise), tipping points and air pollution and, for the first time, has “a far greater emphasis on regional climate change” including an online interactive atlas.
These aspects are reviewed in detail in the following links: