Why fighting climate change can give us reasons to be cheerful

Eiffel tower

The Paris Agreement was celebrated with "1.5 degrees" being projected onto the Eiffel Tower.

Climate change brings with it existential concern. But the actions we take to prevent runaway climate change can have extraordinary benefits for our economy, our health, our wellbeing and our relationship with the natural environment. It is these positive messages that can persuade people to act now, argues LOUISE GRAY

As a journalist, my job is to translate the complex issues around climate change into something the public can understand. In the past that has focused on scare-mongering. 

The Eiffel Tower lit up in celebration of the world agreeing to limit global warming to 2C in 2016. It was an historic agreement that has been accepted by every country in the UN except the United States. 

But more than a year later, are we any closer to achieving this planet-saving goal and what could it mean for ordinary people around the world?

At the Edinburgh Science Festival a panel of scientists, academics, journalists, doctors and meteorologists will discuss how the Paris Agreement could impact on daily life. 

Improving efficiency

Dame Julia Slingo, the former Chief Scientist at the Met Office, points out that if the world continues business as usual, then global warming could go beyond 2C, leading to possible droughts in Africa and floods in parts of Asia. This will lead to climate change refugees and pressure on food security across the world. 

If warming is limited to 1.5C - which is the ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement - it could save smaller islands such as Kiribati in the Pacific as well as flooding in low lying coastal areas. 

Closer to home, Dame Julia has suggested that climate change could be a factor in some of the floods the UK has already experienced. She suggests that limiting global warming could save lives and billions of pounds.

Dr Matthew Brander is a lecturer on the world’s first MSc in carbon finance at the University of Edinburgh. He argues that ‘carbon accounting’ or measuring the greenhouse gases emitted by a company will be key to any successful business in the future.

Cutting carbon has many benefits including reducing the electricity bill by improving efficiency and minimising waste. It could also see companies rewarded by the government through taxation. Whether those benefits will be passed on to the consumer is another thing… 

Migration movements

Dr Kris Murray, a medical doctor at Imperial College London, highlights the very real health risks of climate change. He points out that heat waves will be dangerous for the elderly and vulnerable. Warmer climates also make it easier for diseases - such as malaria - to spread.

On the other hand, measures to reduce climate change could also help improve health. For instance, eating less meat because the livestock emits greenhouse gases could also reduce cardiovascular disease in the west, and the spread of zoonotic diseases from intensive farms. At the same time cutting pollution from coal-fired plants and cars could reduce lung disease. 

Dr Murray also looks at the benefits to health from living forests that absorb carbon dioxide and provide a home for biodiversity, and ultimately the benefit to mental health of saving species from extinction and maintaining our shared environment. 

As a journalist, my job is to translate the complex issues around climate change into something the public can understand. In the past that has focused on scare-mongering. 

The public has been repeatedly warned of the consequences of runaway climate change, from more extreme weather events, to mass migration movements and the end of affordable chocolate. But this is not really working.

The answer, I believe, is to promote a positive message. What about the benefits of acting on climate change? The cleaner air? Lower electricity bills? Jobs in new industries? The greening of cities? The healthier diet?  Perhaps it is time to highlight the positives. Starting here.

This Author

Louise Gray is a journalist and the author of The Ethical Carnivore. She is speaking at the Edinburgh International Science Festival as part of the show The Paris Agreement: Today and Tomorrow at 3pm on Saturday 7 April in The National Museum of Scotland. Full details and tickets can be found online