As we sat shivering in another ‘Beast from the East’ and were filled with a mixture of glee and annoyance, depending on age, by the recent snowfall, global warming was perhaps not uppermost in our minds.
We British are of course renowned for our preoccupation with the weather and here was an ideal opportunity to share our views on how a warming world could be so cold, but even the staunchest of weather watchers have been rather too distracted by the coronavirus pandemic to engage in that debate.
The occasional disruption caused by snow is perhaps nothing compared to the ongoing restrictions we have all been subject to during lockdown but whilst vaccines now offer hope of controlling Covid-19, allowing us to lift the shackles it has imposed, we must regain our preoccupation with the weather and focus fully on eliminating the carbon emissions that are causing our climate to change.
The pandemic required a global response, enacted at a local level, involving some degree of personal sacrifice from us all, in order to be controlled, thereby protecting the lives and wellbeing of the world’s population. The same is undoubtedly needed if we are to limit the threat posed by a warming climate, with individuals, and those in positions of power getting their priorities right and taking the necessary actions to control climate change.
For its part Harrogate Borough Council, through its recent rejection of Harrogate Spring Water’s expansion plans, near Pinewoods, did just that, making a bold statement and putting the environment first. This is in stark contrast to the planning approval, initial given by the county council in Cumbria for a new, controversial coking coal mine, but since suspended, where economic benefits were felt to outweigh all other considerations.
There are other positive signs suggesting that both our borough and county councils are taking seriously the need to implement measures which reduce carbon emissions; pushing ahead with low-energy street lighting throughout the area, supporting the introduction of electric buses, trialling changes to town centre streets to encourage walking and cycling over car use and bringing Park & Ride facilities a step closer. Also, after a slow start, the council led Harrogate District Climate Change Coalition, formed to promote and implement carbon reduction activities, is starting to find its feet and now needs resident’s support in completing the online climate change survey.
There are of course other areas where priorities need to be reassessed in the district’s strategies and policies. New housing developments, for example, such as the proposed Hammerton-Cattal settlement, are still being built across the district without due regard for their impact on the environment, with new residents finding themselves lacking good local shops, buses, walking and cycling routes, encouraging car use and leading to road congestion and increased emissions.
The poor energy efficiency of new and existing homes and commercial buildings is also a concern. Harrogate District has some 73,000 existing homes, most of which are not sufficiently insulated or draught proofed to stay warm without a lot of heating, mostly by gas. There is an urgent need to upgrade these properties, in order to cut their carbon emissions.
There will undoubtedly be planning decisions that need to be taken that will challenge our resolve but it is vitally important that priority continues to be given to the climate, if we are to meet the district’s zero carbon targets. We must support and applaud decisions that help the necessary changes to be implemented, whilst modifying our own behaviour to adapt to those changes, if we are to avoid an endless climate-imposed lockdown.