Whilst motoring gently along the River Wey, there is plenty of opportunity for reflection. As the narrowboat travels at a maximum of 4mph, it’s not unusual to step off the boat and walk along the towpath for a mile or so, rejoining the boat at the next lock. These towpath walks allow a break from the tiller and a time to think, figuratively, where we are going.
The exceptional warm weather in mid-September was a welcome surprise after the unsettled August. I have a birthday in mid-August, and over the years I have memories of torrential downpours, thunder and lightning, and in 1979 I was under canvas during the storm that led to the Fastnet Disaster. Equally, I remember that September has often brought fine weather, usually just around the time the school year was starting. A school trip to Stratford upon Avon in 1980 to pick up some Shakespearean culture, coincided with a week of fine weather – an Indian Summer.
As Brits, we always have something to say about the weather. Often you start a conversation with a stranger with a comment about the weather. Britain gets most of its weather from the west, and is subject to the vaguaries of Atlantic fronts. As such, we seldom get two days alike – apart for the exceptions, such as last week, when we do. We are a nation that has become obsessed with the ever changing weather: “Will I need an umbrella?” “Will the outdoor event at the weekend be cancelled?” “Will it clear up this evening so we can have a barbeque?” These clearly are short term concerns – because we all know that tomorrow normally the weather will be different.
Perhaps the conversation that we should be having is that of Climate Change, its imminent arrival and its long term consequences. It will take more than an umbrella to save us from the effects of global change.
As I walked the towpath, bright and sunny, but still with the early morning chill, the last wisps of mist hanging over the river, I was reminded that we will soon be into Autumn, and the requirement to turn the home heating on. Not a worry, we have gas central heating, backed up with a wood-burning stove – we will be warm and comfortable. What will happen over the next 20 years as we aim for decarbonisation of our power sector and running our economy for carbon-neutrality?
Britain has some of the poorest-built housing stock in Western Europe. New houses are being built that are still woefully below the insulation requirements, demanded by decarbonisation of the energy sector. 60% of our housing stock was built before 1960 – about 14 million dwellings. Many of these are terraced or semi-detached and are difficult and costly to effectively insulate. The country would need to spend seven hundred billion on a national program of building improvement, just to bring the older housing stock up to an acceptable standard of insulation and energy efficiency.
The global automotive industry has finally woken up to the need to replace the world’s vehicle population with those powered by electricity, instead of perpetuating the internal combustion engine. New models have been announced from several manufacturers including Mini, BMW, VW and Renault. The Mini Electric, recently featured on “Fully Charged” begins at £25000 with Government discount. Hopefully within a few years these vehicles will become truly affordable, as it is anticipated that all new vehicles sold by 2040 will be electric. The UK currently has about 32 million cars on its roads, of which only 212,000 are plug-in hybrid or pure electric – since sales took off with the Nissan Leaf in 2011. However, with fewer than 1 in 150 vehicles running on electricity, we clearly have a long way to go.
It will take much more than better insulated homes and electric cars to fix the multiple-crises on the horizon. Climate Change, sea levels rising, loss of rainforest and bio-diversity and food-security to mention just a few. Our current politicians are incapable or unwilling to make the decisions needed. Left to the “free market” we will achieve nothing. What is needed is needed is a Government that can seize the day, formulate a long term plan and unite the country – so we can all work together to fix this mess. When the Thames starts lapping around the Houses of Parliament and flooding the City of London – we will know its all too little, too late.