The UK needs comprehensive decarbonisation by around 2030. A big transformation. What role can universities play? Peter Harper, Natural Sciences, poses the big questions about the climate crisis and the changes needed to break the logjam. Interested in finding out more? Staff and students are invited to join Peter at our next Talk Teaching event on Friday, 22nd March.
All hands on deck!
Everybody knows what the basic problem is, yet it seems obvious that neither the world nor the UK are facing up to it. Governments and businesses everywhere are subject to severe electoral and market constraints, yet we could all get on with it if we thought everyone else was. It requires a catalytic player to break the logjam, and I argue that the universities are ideal for this role because the initiatives required, in both teaching and research, broadly match their existing practice and purpose.
It seems to be widely assumed that serious attention to the climate problem would entail drastic changes to personal lifestyles. This is not the case. The rapid changes now necessary are not in the domestic sphere at all, but in infrastructure: large-scale engineering developments and land-use changes that are effectively invisible to ordinary consumers. These are still a big and complex changes, needing a reorientation of research effort and training, where universities can obviously play a key role.
The question is how to start, and here the universities need to show the government, the business community and the general public the overwhelming evidence that a strategic transition is entirely possible, and does not threaten living standards or aspirations. The universities need to get out in front, commit themselves to the transition process, accept the changes this entails and engage in vigorous proactive dialogue with other sectors. A new narrative is needed to break the logjam, and universities can play a catalytic role both in creating and propagating it.
Peter Harper, Natural Sciences
I have been working on environment and sustainability issues for around 50 years (after an early sally into neurophysiology, when I was briefly the only vegetarian vivisectionist in Britain). I went on to try and make simple living simpler through Alternative Technology, which I invented in 1972, and regretted it ever since. A quick flick through my web site www.peterharper.org will reveal the range of my life’s obsessions. My connection with Bath is that I teach a course on quantitative, physical Sustainability in Natural Sciences.
I have only recently wandered into academia from the civil sector, and I am surprised what difficulties you all seem to have in seeing the Big Picture. It is after all basically a case of trying to get a quart into a pint pot, which any ten-year-old will tell you can’t be done. As a relative outsider, perhaps my most important role is to call a spade a spade and act as a human shield for those academic colleagues who have grasped that things have to change faster than is customary or comfortable