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Civils are not the enemy of the environment


I watched a very scary programme on TV last week about climate change - in particular the way 'global dimming' was masking the real impact of global warming in the atmosphere.

It was scary because the programme spoke in very real terms about major parts of the world becoming uninhabitable well within my lifetime.

And it warned that my home could cease to be in a green and pleasant land by the time my pension is ready.

In case you missed it, I will recap. Particle pollution in the atmosphere makes clouds refl ect more sunlight back into space and reduces the heating of the earth - an effect known as global dimming. This dimming has so far countered much of the effect of so-called 'greenhouse gas' pollution which traps heat in the atmosphere.

This sounds good, but cleaner burning of fuel by cars and power stations is reducing article pollution - and global dimming.

As little is being done about CO 2 emissions we now face the double whammy of more greenhouse gases heating the atmosphere while less solar dimming keeps it cool. The result will be a 10ºC temperature increase by the end of the century rather than the 5ºC previously thought.

And this was serious television: this was Horizon on the BBC. If even half of the content is true we are going to have a big problem pretty soon. Or more specifically, my kids will.

Now, it so happens that I have also been receiving a surge in press releases from various 'new' anti-road lobby groups claiming that this year will see a return of the pro-environment protests that once dogged construction during the 1990s.

I say 'new' but that stretches the truth somewhat. In reality there is little new about them.

The names may be slightly different but they are the same players regrouped to form new alliances for the same cause - a kind of Band Aid 20 of the civil action world, if you like.

And there's nothing wrong with that (new alliances I mean, - Band Aid 20 was terrible).

My biggest concern is that if we are talking about 10-C temperature rises by 2100 and irreversible damage in 25 years, I do not think they are thinking big enough or global enough.

Whatever the Highways Agency says, the road construction programme in the UK - 33 schemes planned to start in the next three years - is just not big enough to be a major threat to life on the planet. Local protests against bypass schemes may be a great post fox-hunting way to bond villagers together.

But they are not going to persuade Tony Blair to press the G8 nations to curb CO 2 emissions and invest in alternative energy research when they all get together at Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire next July.

Certainly we must all make more effi ient use of energy and resources. And the rich, polluting nations must lead the poorer developing nations.

But we cannot pretend that halting the construction of vital infrastructure in the UK will do anything other than harm.

These new campaign alliances really must understand that civil engineers are on the their side. And by working with us they might even get to tackle the real issues threatening the lives of the next generation.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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