By Anders Lorenzen
The scientist and former scientific adviser to the UK government, Sir David King, still takes an active interest in tackling climate change. He is part of a new initiative called Climate Repair looking at geoengineering technologies to slow down the impacts of climate change. He recently visited London’s Institute of Mechanical Engineers to talk about the project and the climate crisis.
However, even though geoengineering is a controversial subject it was perhaps his remarks during the Q&A session that raised most eyebrows.
Talking about how to respond to the climate crisis he said he believed the tide is turning, explaining “once we see the political leadership following the likes of Greta Thunberg we will see monumental change,” King said. But it was what came after that was more surprising as he stated: “I don’t believe we should suffer. As you can see I have a tan, I go on holiday. You should be able to have a good lifestyle and a low carbon footprint.”
It was particularly surprising, as it came just after he had praised Greta Thunberg and the movement and momentum she has caused, a large part of which involves boycotting flying on climate grounds.
King had responded to a question from the audience asking what individuals can do to fight climate change.
One could point to the fact that many people each day truly suffer and die from the impacts of climate change through extreme weather events and the spread of diseases and malnutrition. It is deeply troubling that Dr King thinks that he is also suffering if he, in the wake of climate breakdown, is prevented from jetting across the world on holiday. He seems to think that he should be allowed to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle while still warning about how serious climate change is. It just does not add up, and it makes a mockery of the challenge.
He is also pandering to a dangerous narrative that we have to be able to live and consume as much as we do right now and at the same time still fight climate change, and that any change to our lifestyle should be resisted.
Of course, some people respond to tackling climate change by saying we can’t go back to living like cavemen. Is King drawing on that narrative? Does he believe that if we are to make some lifestyle changes in order to deal with the climate crisis, this is somehow a setback for humanity?
The challenge is, of course, we do not yet have these fantasy technologies that allow flying to be a low-carbon activity. It would be great if we did, but the reality is that emissions from flying are globally rising faster than from any other industry. If you do want to tackle climate change it has to come with lifestyle changes. But we have to be careful about calling them sacrifices.
Who knows, maybe swopping flying with train travel could be even more enjoyable as it gives the traveller a realistic understanding of what it means to get from a to b, actually experiencing the landscape at ground level. The people who are dying and being injured and who have their lives destroyed from extreme heatwaves, floods, landslides and so on they experience real suffering. One thing that is not suffering, is to occasionally be taking the train instead of an aeroplane.