Opinion: 'We can't pretend climate change has nothing to do with us in Norfolk'

Transport is the biggest source of emissions in Norwich and Norfolk, accounting for 39pc of our tota

Transport is the biggest source of emissions in Norwich and Norfolk, accounting for 39pc of our total carbon emissions - Credit: Archant/Simon Finlay

I still prefer to pore over old-fashioned maps rather than tangle with apps and other new-fangled technology cluttering up our ever-lengthening information highway.  

You know where you are with something useful taking hold during geography lessons at grammar school when certain pupils could scarcely manage to outline  the quickest way to Swaffham from deepest  agricultural Norfolk. 

I have been renewing acquaintance with this county as a tantalising whole by sizing up in graphic detail how climate change could wreak various kinds of havoc with what many of us have cherished and taken for granted since childhood. 

A couple of striking maps set out in stark terms just what is going on right now before our very eyes- and point emphatically towards even more  serious dangers on the horizon unless setting targets and blaming everyone else give way to accepting grim truths and taking immediate action. 

I hear already shrill cries of “scaremongering!” over revelations that our rural communities are among the worst in England for vehicle carbon emissions and vast swathes of Norwich and Norfolk will face regular flooding by 2030. 

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Frankly, I fail to see how these “in our own backyard” warnings can be over-exaggerated at a time of global calamity clearly caused by climate change. Norfolk simply cannot unfurl its “dew diffrunt” flag and pretend this has nothing to do with us. 

The sheer size and volume of polluting vehicles on our roads, plus crushing of so many precious green acres by the jackboots of excessive development, offer grim evidence of what happens when economy constantly bullies ecology out of the way. 

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It must be worth pointing out that even if the advent of electric motors could render our beleaguered highways a bit cleaner and quieter, numbers are likely to rise and keep Norfolk’s dubious “car county” accolade intact. 

That begs an obvious question as to where on earth they can all be parked sensibly in city,  town and village. Peak holiday traffic gridlock in Cromer, Wells, Brancaster and a rash  of other popular coastal locations underlines a growing blight across the county, especially in summer. 

For all the heightened emotions stirred by fresh evidence and dire predictions, from the Centre  for Energy Research into Energy Solutions and also Climate Central, an independent group, there’s been no tangible reaction from either Norfolk County Council or local MPs beyond the odd “something must be done” platitude and apologetic nod towards lamentable public transport. 

There was  some much-needed straight  talking from Chris Dady, chairman of the Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. He  said: “The problem is that Norfolk’s leaders have it in their heads that  this is a ‘car county’. But that assumption stems from the fact our council and MPs have absolutely no idea what to do next. 

“Their ignorance on climate change  was shown by  the Greater Norwich Local Plan suggesting house building be more spread out across the county … despite those places being completely disconnected from transport networks.” 

He continued a withering critique: “There’s no joined-up thinking. We need to change policy drastically and quickly as the UN report shows the world really isn’t in a good place right now”. 

Such a blunt outburst from an influential figure on the county scene is extremely rare. It remains to be seen if it draws a significant response from those under fire – or inspires more key players in Norfolk life to have their say  on an  issue vital to all our futures. 

Coincidentally, I happened across a cutting recently from August, 1912, clearly illustrating previous generations have shown concerns over topics at the heart of current debates. It came from no less an illustrious source than The Rodney & Otamatea Times in New Zealand. 

Under the headings Science Notes and Views and Coal Consumption Affecting Climate, the small article reads: “The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000.000.000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature – the effect may be considerable in a few centuries”. 

Well,  it’s taken just over the one century for that stark prophecy in a local newspaper to be proven valid.  You can explore the Norfolk carbon emissions map by visiting www.carbon.place  

Skip's Aside

An old colleague who shares my lack of enthusiasm for soaps on either television or radio got in touch after my reflections last week. He reminded me how memorable drops of satire can help keep matters in some sort of perspective.

Mrs Dale got plenty of mentions on The Goon Show and on Round The Horne when Mrs Dire’s Dreary begged for special treatment from the lugubrious Kenneth Williams. Mrs Wilson’s Diary turned up in the magazine Private Eye.

Best of all, Tony Hancock sent them all up, most notably The Archers, by going over the top and sending a whole load of characters down a disused mine shaft in his television classic The Bowmans. He played Joshua Merriweather. a sort of Walter Gabriel with attitude who annoyed the rest of the cast so much they decided to get rid of him.

He returned by public demand as a long-lost twin brother bent on a full measure of artistic revenge. The BBC had no option but to let the serial killer himself fill all vacancies washed up by soap’s descent into glorious parody.

Another chum with a puckish sense of humour called in the middle of what has been labelled Banksy bedlam across the region. He said an arty chap was wandering up and down his road refusing to adorn any walls. Apparently he called himself Blanksy.

Back to reality with cherished memories of a proper country character who set me guessing back in the 1950s when he basked in ”mellowsun days”..

It took a while to work out what he meant. I thought at first he was talking about “medicine “or “Nelson” as he rolled out words and phrases in broad dialect tones.

Then it dawned on me . He peered skywards, shielded his eyes as if in salute to an all-conquering power and undid another button on his waistcoat. He was paying tribute to glorious weather after the corn harvest.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at such lyrical language. He and several contemporaries echoed Shakespeare when hailing the sun as “bright Phoebus in his strength”. That old man’s wonderful feel for words often returned to keep me company on blackberry-picking expeditions in a warm glow surrounding end of August and start of September.

Hope to hear him in coming weeks.


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