Interview: Professor Richard Tuckett on the climate emergency

Richard Tuckett is a semi-retired professor of Chemical Physics from the University of Birmingham. He completed his undergraduate and PhD training at the University of Cambridge and in 2001 he discovered by accident, what is now known as a ‘super greenhouse gas’ CF3SF5.

Professor Tuckett is one of 30 scientists who have been invited to write in the third edition of ‘Climate Change, Observed Impacts of Planet Earth,’ the book collects the latest information on climate change and related issues while also looking at new ways to solve the problems.

Environment Journal got in touch with Professor Tuckett to talk more about his chapter in the book and to discuss various issues around the climate crisis.

In your chapter, you write that with a lack of climate targets from countries like China and America, it can leave smaller European countries feeling like there is no point. On an individual level, do you think there is any point in personal action or should we be pushing for global change? 

I think both, I do think personal decisions lead onto other things if more people make them, but we must be realistic on what individuals can do in the face of this global problem, especially in a small country like the UK.

I do think that one should, as an individual do as best they can, but one must also be realistic, there are limits as to how far this is going to get us.

Eat less meat, ride your bike, drive less, fly less and if you’re lucky enough to have the choice then have fewer children.

These are small scale actions that we can do, but we need both.

We need national governments to step in and put in place policies to implement real change.

You write about the things that have changed in the last decade, social media being one of them. You talk about the benefits of this, but do you worry about the dangers of social media in terms of the spread of fake news and climate scepticism? 

In a sense, yes I do, I don’t use social media myself but I still acknowledge the strengths of it, you can get petitions with millions of signatures very quickly, that was utterly impossible ten years ago.

But the problem is, anyone can put something online, it’s unregulated, and this can lead to huge misinformation problems.

As a scientist, you know the facts, why do you think that despite this, we have consistently seen a lack of action from governments? 

The CO2 issue is such a huge problem, and it’s a very personal issue in that to resolve it, it will require huge changes to life as we know it.

You are asking people to make huge lifestyle changes.

It will require a global mutual effort, and I worry that it will take a major disaster for politicians to act.

Of course, we don’t want a huge disaster to happen, but I fear that it may come to that.

In that sense, do you worry that we could be too late? 

The predictions are that if we end up with a 2.5 – 3 degree of warming, much more than the 1.5 degrees that we are aiming for, then something called the runaway greenhouse effect will come in.

This is when we reach a point of no return.

I fear for mass migration, mostly from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere.

I don’t know if we are too late, but I hope and pray not.

You write about economic growth and climate action being incompatible. Do you think ending climate change requires ending capitalism? 

I certainly think that we are obsessed by the word growth, it’s all money and GDP and increasingly I am questioning why.

Of course, we need growth to a certain extent, you can’t invest in the future if you don’t grow, but I do wonder if the extent of the growth that we have seen in China in the last 30 years will have unforeseen consequences for the next 30 years.

The emerging middle class in Asia, Africa and India are trying to catch up with Europe and North America.

And Europe and North America cannot get away from the fact that climate change is occurring not deliberately, but because of the industrial revolution that allowed us to grow, that is a fact we cannot ignore.

You write about concerns with carbon offsetting, can you talk more about this? 

If you have a global problem, all that matters is reducing the total amount of CO2.

So by reducing the amount of CO2 by giving it to another country, it doesn’t solve the problem at all, it just moves the pieces around the chessboard.

Photo Credit – Richard Tuckett and Pippa Neill

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