Climate crisis

By Andy Winfield

Towards the end of June I went to France for a two week holiday; it was beautiful with diverse landscape, plant life and wildlife causing me to spend large amounts of time tip toeing through meadows looking at the ground in the early evenings. It was also very hot. It was the hottest recorded temperature in France and was a struggle to do very much at all during the day. I found the heat intimidating particularly with the growing realisation with nearly everyone, that these temperatures are going to become the norm. Experiencing the high temperatures that we did was a real wake up call and not a little scary. A few degrees higher and it would have been impossible to even go outside let alone the slow trudging that we did manage before finding some way to stop our blood rising above 37 degrees.

These extreme conditions bring the climate crisis into sharp focus and our responsibilities and responses to it. I’ve worked at the University for nearly twenty years and during that time the planet has had nine of the ten hottest years since records began in 1880; also in that time 78 of 129 recording countries have logged their highest ever temperature with this June the hottest ever recorded. The data, the research and projections are absolutely compelling, so why aren’t all hands to the pump? Perhaps there is more of a focus on financial projections than meteorological ones, perhaps individually (myself included) for many the focus is on the more immediate needs and plans.  For students that I talk to in the Garden, the Climate Crisis is their number one issue with many of them urgently protesting in London with the Extinction Rebellion; they are frustrated with a perceived lack of action and responsibility from powerful corporations who they think have young people’s future in their hands. Children are walking out of school to protest about the stealing of their futures.

The reality is that this crisis is reversible and there exists in our species the scientific and engineering talent to achieve it, although our record isn’t good. There is the widely held belief that we’re in the middle of a global mass extinction of our own making. Plants have taken a huge hit with 571 species wiped out, making Botanic Gardens more important than ever for preserving and recording species; we work hard to educate and communicate the importance of plants in every diverse ecosystem and it is plants that could be a major lifeline to reducing carbon in the atmosphere.

A couple of things recently have given me glimmers of hope. Firstly was the news that science had solved a problem that scared me when I was young in the 80s, the ozone layer. Recently it has been revealed that due to a global treaty banning the harmful CFCs that were depleting the ozone layer and the scientific data informing the problem, the hole is now closing and will be gone in 50 years when all CFCs have finally dispersed. This success was the result of a collaborative and urgent reaction by major powers which averted a crisis that, although bad, could have been much worse than it was; the 11 year old me wouldn’t have believed it.

International collaboration seems a little way off with this century’s environmental crisis, but science is working hard for solutions. Recent research suggests that planting as many as a trillion trees throughout the world could cut carbon by up to 25%; this calculation excludes agricultural land and cities and is one of the best climate crisis solutions available. This was exciting news and something tangible that can be done, although the effects wouldn’t be felt for a few decades, so we still need to stick to plan A, reducing carbon emissions. Bristol University has set itself the target of becoming a net carbon-neutral campus in ten years which is ambitious, but we can all see the seriousness in which this policy is taken. Impact on climate is something considered with each decision made now.

In the Garden we see nature close at hand every day and young people who are incredibly concerned that their descendants won’t be able to experience the same pleasure in wildlife that they do. We have the capacity to reverse the crisis and we can all help in a small way to make a difference. It always seems quite preachy when someone tells others what to do without knowing their circumstances, but if everyone did one thing that they weren’t doing before it will make a difference; 72% of global greenhouse gas emissions are the result of household decisions and most climate pollution comes from wealthier countries. So, according to the experts any one of the following will help… plant a tree or two; holiday closer to home; walk or bus if possible; reduce the amount of plastic you use; changing our shopping habits will force suppliers to change their supplying habits; going down to four days a week reduces impact on the climate and increases efficiency; eat less meat; buy fewer clothes; write to your MP to ask what they are doing to change political thinking, tell them that it matters to you, the more they receive the more likely it will be talked about in Parliament and made a larger part of manifestos.





3 thoughts on “Climate crisis

  1. In the climate change discussions we perhaps omit the Sun cycles (12 years, 24 year), as well as other facts – in the 1970´s the main concern was that the planet is cooling and new Ice Age was coming. Another thing that is being “omitted” is the importance of an ignored hothouse gas – vapour (water), which has much larger impact on the climate of the planet than CO2. Climate changes have always been here – remember the mammoths frozen in mud that is now permafrost in Siberia, black coal composed of Araucaria in Central Europe while nowadays Araucarias freeze there – in the last 25 years I have been trying to bring them up in my botanical jungle (in Central Europe) – this is my 10th set of plants from southern Chile and they still struggle to pass winters while the previous 9 sets have already died completely. Thus my remining Araucarias still need some + 5 to +10 degrees Celsius more so as to grow the sizes that made black coal possible here… they suffer each winter from too much cold, and in summer as well, they just thrive – but they wait desperately for the change to come! Even more so my Jubaea palms.
    As for extinctions, the major cause for terrestrial species seems be agriculture, and pesticides. Regretfully agriculture (and now I speak of Continental Europe) has become focused on producing energy crops such as raps (the oil being mixed to car fuels, same as palm oil where some 80% of imported volume goes to fuels, not to food), maize and wheat for fuel in electric power stations. My participation in a Rebellion-like activities is a long-term one, I “rescued” a small maize field, planted my jungle of native and exotic trees, shrubs, and plants including plenty of Methuselah trees such as giant Sequoiadendron trees, that devour all my carbon footprints I have ever printed, and they will continue doing so even 2 thousand and some 450 years after I quit this part of the Universe. I mean, having devoured all my carbon they will need to feed on someone else’s carbon. To be on the safer side, I planted also Siberian Stone Pines and Siberian Larch, you never know about the changes, and if instead of warming the Sun cools the Planet down, I will still have enough trees to feed me and the red squirrels.
    So I am not that enthusiastic about fighting climate changes by replacing wood and coal with wind turbines, or mineral oil with raps and palm oil – beside the fact that raps agriculture has damaged the environment much more quickly and in far graver ways and level than petrol industry did – my bees would tell a story if they were still living, but they cannot for having been exterminated through repeated spraying with whatever poisons the producers (can´t address them as farmers) chose.
    I do appreciate the long-time effort of botanical and zoological gardens indeed, the latter helped me in a project of re-introduction lynx gladly and free of charge, while botanical gardens have been a huge source of seeds of plants that have become extremely rare so I could plant them in my jungle garden and help the plants survive in “wilderness” – even orchids such as several Cephalanthera species spread like weeds when they found a place they can grow undisturbed.

    1. Thank you Milan, that is fascinating; it sounds like your jungle and re-introduction of lynx have a great story behind them. Are you on any social media where we can see your work?
      Araucaria araucana grow well here in the South West of UK, but we have A.bidwillii A.angustifolia and A.heterophylla which are just brought out for the summer and back to the safety of glasshouses in the winter.

      1. Thank you, Andy, regretfully I am an “old dinosaur”, without any more advanced technology but email and cell phone – and I let my visit card in your garden just yesterday – with my thanks for permitting me extend my collection with seeds of the wonderful snow white trunks of Betula lenta (while the Inula hookerii climbed high on the list of my must-have plants).
        I really appreciate your garden where on such (relatively) tiny space I could see a wonderfully composed biotopes of Canada, New Zealand, Chile, China, Caucasus, Jurasic Age Site, and thousands of workers flying here and there (the beehives indeed).
        In my list, I grade the garden as one of 4 best in Europe, probably sharing places 1 to 3 with Botanical Garden and Arboretum in Troja, Prague, and a Botanical Garden in Průhonice (near Prague).

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