Catastrophic climate change could become irreversible in ten years’ time unless drastic action is taken, according to a United Nations panel of experts, the IPCC. To avoid this fate, we need to slash our use of fossil fuels before 2030.
Faced with such a desperate situation how can anyone think of building the A6-M60 Bypass and other major new roads? Expanding the road network would increase vehicle use and therefore maintain and even increase our dependence on fossil fuels.
The A6-M60 Bypass would be, among other things, a new route to Manchester Airport. It would have the additional negative effect of enabling an increase in air travel which is the most intensive form of fossil fuel-powered transport.
Bizarrely a Business Case for the Bypass in 2017 claimed that the new road would decrease emissions of carbon dioxide because it would reduce congestion. This fiction was based on the unproven assumptions that the Bypass would not increase traffic and would result in zero congestion on the new road itself and its feeders.
The Government recently set a target of “net zero” carbon by 2050. In Stockport politicians have recognised there is a “climate emergency”. Greater Manchester has produced a green plan. Yet many politicians are still wedded to road-building. They think that widespread adoption of electric cars at some time in the future gives a licence to carry on driving at current levels or greater.
Replacing fossil-fueled transport with electric motors is essential to cut toxic pollution and to reduce the impact of driving on the climate. However, it will take years to achieve and it is not cost free.
A recent study from the Natural History Museum has set out the huge impact on the environment of swapping our petrol-powered cars for a similar number of electric cars.
Giant batteries used by electric cars demand a huge amount of mining of limited deposits of various metals. Scientists led, by the Museum’s Prof Richard Herrington, explain that to replace just the UK’s current fossil fuel-powered cars, we would need to produce almost double the current total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production.
They also say that a 20% increase in UK-generated electricity would be required to charge the current mileage driven by UK cars.
The inescapable conclusion is that the reign of the car as Britain’s number one mode of transport must end whatever the power source. Pouring hundreds of millions of pounds into a road like the A6-M60 Bypass does the opposite: it boosts the car and makes it less likely that the transition to alternative fuels and transport will be made in time.
On the brink
Climate change is mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. These produce carbon dioxide which builds up in the atmosphere, wrapping a blanket around the earth.
The UN experts (officially titled the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) say in a special report published last October that global warming must not go above 1.5 degrees (measured since the beginning of the fossil-fuel burning industrial revolution 200 years ago).
The Paris climate agreement of 2015 said that the temperature rise should be kept well below 2 degrees. But since then, carbon dioxide has increased in the atmosphere.
The UN panel of experts say that a rise above 1.5 degrees could trigger an unstoppable ice melt over centuries. So-called feedback loops escalate the process of warming. Ice reflects the sun’s heat; when the ice is gone the earth warms. Melting permafrost and rising sea level temperatures release large amounts of stored carbon dioxide and methane. On land, rising temperatures lead to the spread of deserts and the loss of vegetation that currently absorbs carbon dioxide.
At the present rate of warming, temperatures will rise above 1.5 degrees by 2030. A continuing rise in temperatures will lead to the flooding of coastal towns and cities, increasingly frequent extreme weather events, the spread of tropical diseases, drought, crop failure and famine. The number of refugees will multiply. The struggle for dwindling resources will lead to wars.
We won’t know until after it has happened, the exact date on which we trigger unstoppable climate change. Thereafter, generations of people will become powerless to halt the process.
We are facing a crisis much more severe than that faced in World War II. Extinction of humankind and wild life will be the outcome if we continue business as usual, rather than immediately taking the sort of emergency measures that were accepted as common sense when Britain was fighting for its life in 1940.
In this context, Stockport Council’s continuing fixation with the A6-M60 Bypass is both ludicrous and tragic.