It’s getting hot in here

Get off your bums and save the planet guys, seriously, say PAUL COHEN and MARTHA DILLON

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The Engineering Department: Engines and structures and Mach numbers and complex numbers and imaginary numbers and more numbers and more numbers. It’s a place most students aren’t interested in, which is a shame, because last week Professor David MacKay gave a talk on climate change that should have been the only lecture anyone went to that day.

Thirty words in and we’ve already probably lost half of you.

That’s the problem. Even though few will question “green issues”, most mentions of them will only elicit a hippy joke or a dig for pushing opinions where they’re not wanted.

Climate change has been turned into an emotional issue. And as a result, it’s near impossible to get debate going and to criticise the apathy most people have towards it.

“Come on man, all this climate change talk is really starting to take the edge of this evening”

That is why MacKay’s mathematical and straightforward approach was so inspiring and we present some of it here in the hope it will be as stimulating for you as it has been for us.

  1. Climate Denial isn’t a legitimate stance*.

Climate Denier: In the last 15 years temperature levels haven’t changed, surely that means the planet isn’t heating up?

You: Average temperatures are the same as 15 years ago, but as this graph shows, the overall temperature is increasing.

Colourful squigglies of impending destruction

Climate Denier: Weather forecasts aren’t accurate until a few days ahead, how can we predict what will happen in decades?

You: Weather and climate change are different things. Climate forecasts are general; they look at the effect increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 will have on ‘average’ temperatures, which is plugged into weather models to predict what we will experience – harsher winters, more frequent storms, and rising sea levels.

  1. Climate Change is really, really scary

Here are some of our favourite oh-my-god-think-of-the-polar-bears facts:

–     A warmer climate means accelerated evaporation and hence more rain, but in massive bursts and extreme storms.

–     A 3o change triggered a mini ice-age 20,000 years ago, with sea levels 100m lower than nowadays and the whole of Europe and North America covered in ice.

–     The European heatwave in 2003 caused over 70,000 deaths. Even if we cut emissions at the fastest possible rate, by 2050 over 60% of summers will reach similar temperatures.

  1. Numbers must add up

Unplugging your mobile saves 1/12500th of your daily energy consumption, yet The Mayor of London thinks it’s a pivotal lifestyle change. Significant reductions require significant actions.

David Mackay plays dodgeball

  1. People have no idea of how much energy things use

For example, a vegetarian diet uses less than half the energy of a carnivorous one, and two round trips to Los Angeles a year is equivalent to driving 50km every day. A grasp of how the numbers add up is key to making objective decisions instead of emotional ones.

And don’t just compare things by cost –a flight to Avignon and weekly rent leave a similar dent on your bank account, but their climate costs are worlds apart.

  1. People and technology can change things

Public transport, more efficient lifestyles and public support for initiatives could have a big effect on our carbon emissions.

Technology is also essential. For example if we filled areas of desert the size of the shaded boxes (see map) with solar panels, enough energy would be generated for 1 billion people at current European levels of

  1. You can change things

Being a student, it feels difficult to make any meaningful changes. Transport is minimal, heating often controlled by college, and many of us live in old, leaky buildings. Here are some ideas:

– Go vegetarian 6 days out of 7 (flexitarian amirite?) = 10% reduction.

– Take a train or bus home after term.

– For those who drive, 55mph is the most efficient speed to drive at.

– Avoid flying. This reduces an average person’s energy consumption by 30%.

– Join a green committee, or encourage any society you join to work in a more sustainable way.

– Write to your MP to encourage them to act in any way you consider effective.

– Wear a jumper, classic.

You are already aware of these issues. You may have a low carbon footprint and feel all-consuming guilt when you sit in a car. Yet we still need special reusable bags to remind us to limit the unending flow of Sainsbury’s bags; people tell their friends “not to be that guy” when their multiple-showers-per-day habit is questioned, and we still don’t turn out our lights.

Environmentalism should not be ‘something I’m interested in’. It’s scary how it still isn’t a natural aspect of our lives. It’s scary that MacKay’s talk felt so ground-breaking when really it should be so obvious.

Now is the time to wake up from our apathy toward this impending crisis and start to live differently.

*Climate change denial has had staggeringly disproportionate exposure, despite being conclusively rejected by the scientific community. If you do question its existence, we implore you to take an objective look at the data

Note: Access David MacKay’s seminal book and our data and figures for free here