The Heat is On – Time to Act on Climate Change

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A new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and its effects are now evident in most regions of the world.

Since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years. Breaking more temperature records than in any other decade.

The authors of the new report on the physical evidence for climate change state that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.

The Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios. Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer.

As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.

It is the poorest regions of the world and the most vulnerable individuals such as the young and elderly who will be most affected.

Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. This will require international action to adopt ambitious legal agreement on climate change in 2015. We will only know over the next year or whether the new evidence will have any impact on national governments who are preoccupied with stimulating growth, reducing debt and increasing employment.

The  assessment draws on millions of observations and over 2 million gigabytes of numerical data from climate model simulations. Over 9,200 scientific publications are cited, more than three quarters of which have been published since the last IPCC assessment in 2007.

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Key evidence highlighted in the report is given below with levels of confidence:

  • Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.
  • Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).
  • The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.
  • The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.
  • CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.
  • Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750.
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
  • Climate models have improved since the last 2007 of assessment of the physical evidence on cliamte change. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence).
  • Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing.cc
  • Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since the last assessment. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
  • Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.
  • Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all  scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for RCP4.5.
  • Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit interannual-to decadal variability and will not be regionally uniform.
  • Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.t767375a
  • The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.
  • It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease.
  • Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.
  • Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.
  • Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.

The  report increases in the confidence associated with climate observations but whichever facts may be discussed, debated or distorted, we cannot ignore the reality that we must act or face frightening new impacts.

Take the poll and let us know what you think:

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What’s the Future for Electric Vehicles?

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The petrol-fuelled motor vehicle kills and maims our children, clogs ups our streets, pollutes the air we breathe and contributes to global warming.

Is the electric vehicle (EV) therefore a possible solution to reduce the environmental impact of road transport?

A number of different categories of EV currently exist. These include ‘plug-in’ EVs which like other domestic appliances require you to plug them in to recharge the battery. Some EVs are solely dependent on the battery as its main source of power. In these vehicles if you don’t use heating or air conditioning and drive sensibly you can travel up 80 -120 miles.

If you wanted more certainty in driving then ‘plug-in’ hybrids allow you to switch between electric or traditional fuel.

These tend to have smaller batteries which means you can only undertake electric travel for about 10-40 miles. Hybrid EVs tend to have a smaller battery which is charged while driving and can therefore be used only over short distances.

The Toyota Pirus is a successful example of a hybrid. Although it has been referred to as the ‘hippie car’ it has been the car of choice for a number of Hollywood celebrities. Finally, there are fuel-cell vehicles which generate their own on-board electricity by using fuels such as hydrogen and therefore do not need to be plugged-in.

Although the UK EV market is the early stages of development, the government’s Committee on Climate Change recommends we should aim to have 1.7 million EVs on the road by 2020 if progress is be made towards achieving the national target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Battery operated EVs tend to be more energy efficient when in use as 80% of the stored energy goes to driving wheels. This is compared to cars with internal combustion engines which are about 20% efficient with most of the energy lost as heat.

Although when loss from energy generation is considered, the energy efficiency of EVs is reduced. On the whole carbon emissions from driving EVs are comparable with the most efficient diesel cars and are about 30% less than the average for new fossil fuel cars.

In addition, EVs produce no tail-pipe emissions when in electric mode so poor air quality will not be experienced in congested urban areas. This is particularly important for large urban conurbations which are grappling with high levels of vehicle-related particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emissions that exceed EU limits.

In London an estimated 4,000 extra deaths occur each year due to airborne particulates costing up to £20 billion a year – twice the cost of obesity. EVs contribute less to noise pollution as they are much quieter that traditional cars – perhaps a reason why many milk floats were battery operated in the heyday of doorstep milk delivery. However, concerns have been raised with regard to pedestrian safety especially of the visually impaired.

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The Toyota Pirus

So is the EV a greener option? Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology undertook a life cycle assessment of the EV and highlighted the ‘toxicity’ of EV manufacturing process compared to conventional vehicles (e.g. extraction of minerals for the battery).

They calculated that the ‘global warming potential’ of manufacturing is about twice as high as conventional vehicles. They argue that promotion of EVs does not make sense in regions where electricity is produced from oil, coal and lignite combustion.

We still have a long way to go before the EV is seen as desirable option by the majority. The public image of EVs needs to be improved and recharging infrastructure needs to be targeted, convenient and safe. For example, the majority of recharging taking place at home, at night, after the peak in electricity demand as well at the workplace for commuters and these need to be available. We also need to understand how to reduce environmental impact of the EV manufacturing process and improve battery recycling.

Until we are able to make a significant shift to renewable energy sources, EVs are simply a means of reducing roadside emissions rather than global emissions. Improvements in technology will inevitably improve the environmental credentials of EVs.

In the short term emission savings in transport are likely to come from better efficiency of conventional vehicles. Walking, cycling and public transport also have a role to play as well as reducing the need to travel in the first place.

© Gary Haq 2013

The Challenge of Transport in Sub-Saharan Africa

ImageTRANSPORT is a key challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa. It is critical importance to the delivery of sustainable cities, healthy citizens, poverty eradication and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. So how can Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries address the challenge of sustainable transport?

Road safety in Africa as a whole is extremely poor having approximately 3 per cent of the world’s motor vehicles yet accounting for 11 per cent of global road fatalities. Traffic congestion in SSA cities is on the rise with some cities approaching gridlock. The urban populations of SSA are growing rapidly, faster than in all other regions of the world, and this situation is expected to continue over the next two decades.

Urban air pollution in major SSA cities is rapidly worsening due to vehicle fleet growth, increasing distances travelled, and high rates of polluting vehicle emissions from vehicles. Globally, transport accounts for approximately 25 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and reducing emissions from the on-road transportation sector can yield rapid and longer-term climate benefits. Yet published data on traffic congestion, air pollution, including greenhouse gases, and road safety tend to be of poor quality in SSA.

This is an issue which is partly being addressed by the Transport Environment-Science Technology (TEST) Network. A EU funded Network led by the Stockholm Environment Institute Institute and European Institute for Sustainable Transport working in partnership with universities in South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The TEST Network aims to support Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries in formulating and implementing sustainable transport policies which contribute to poverty reduction and sustainable economic development.

ImageA new report written by a panel of international experts, examines the transport and environment challenges in SSA countries. The report states that transport policy decisions and the detailed spatial, sectoral and social beneficiaries of transport spending and strategies have a hugely important impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people in SSA.

There are a large number of well documented ways in which we can improve the quality of life of Africa’s citizens. We can improve air quality and public health, remove the scourge and distress caused by death, injury and disability as a result of road crashes and increase the likelihood of widely disseminated economic gains to all sections of society.

In this social-technical-economic complex there are important democratic considerations. What do African citizens want for the future of their families, their communities their regions and their country? Given a choice of living in poverty, pollution, traffic danger and poor quality access to important health, education and training opportunities or living in a thriving, opportunity-rich, clean and safe environment it is already very clear that the latter is preferable to the former.

ImageThe TEST report argues that transport policy for SSA must be embedded in a poverty eradication policy and poverty eradication must deliver real gains in transport as it affects 800 million SSA citizens. This policy synergy provides a huge opportunity to deliver successful outcomes and they will not deliver if they move along in non-communicating parallel tracks.

The report  makes recommendations for the development of sustainable transport policies in SSA based on five central principles:

  1. Maximizing transport accessibility for all social groups, genders and income levels, so that all citizens can access health care, education, training and jobs with minimal effort, costs and journey time;
  2. Creating a safe, secure urban environment with the minimum possible risk of death and injury from road accidents;
  3. Ensuring that all public health measures deal with the debilitating and costly consequences of air pollution on human health;
  4. Freeing up urban road space by improving traffic flow conditions in a way that stimulates economic activity and job creation and avoids the generation of new traffic; and
  5. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

SSA has some very serious transport problems but these present all decision-takers and policy makers with opportunities to re-shape traditional policies to produce a step-change improvement in quality of life for citizens and to deliver the urgently needed poverty alleviation outcomes already agreed.

Policies and interventions can be re-shaped and the task now is to orchestrate the political and professional support and unwavering commitment to deliver all these virtuous outcomes.

© Gary Haq 2012

What Do Older People Think About The Environment?

We are all getting older. There are now approximately 760 million people globally aged 60-plus compared to just 200 million back in 1950. By 2050 people aged 60-plus are predicted to reach 2 billion people.

We are all getting older. There are now approximately 760 million people globally aged 60-plus compared to just 200 million back in 1950. By 2050 people aged 60-plus are predicted to reach 2 billion people.

Increased lifespan demonstrates the success of modern medicine particularly in developing countries. However, an ageing population will have major implications for health care, pensions and working practices.

An older society will require a cultural change in how we perceive and treat older people and policy makers will need to prepare for the challenges of an ageing population. Not just in terms of need but also the contribution older people can make to society in later life.

Evidence shows that some older people in certain regions of the world can be disproportionately affected by environmental problems such as air pollution, climate change-related heat waves and other natural disasters.

In addition, recent research, surveys and consultations have exposed the missed opportunities associated with the lack of closer engagement of the over 55s in general discussion on environmental issues.

It is therefore important that seniors around the world make their voices heard so that policy makers can take action to better prepare for the needs of an ageing population.

In June 2012 the environment will once again be in the international spotlight as world leaders descend on Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) for the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development or “Earth Summit”.

In an attempt to address the “missing voice” of older people and to encourage wider involvement, an consortium led by the Stockholm Environment Institute is seeking the views of older people around the world on the environmental issues of primary concern and their ideas for tackling them.

This survey is being conducted by an international consortium of older people organisations and universities. The consortium is led by SEI at the University of York (UK) and the Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre (Canada) and includes Help Age International, Age UK, Community Service Volunteers’ Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP) and the Council On The Ageing (COTA) – Victoria (Australia).

If your are over 55 then make sure your voice is heard by completing the On-line survey at www.envirosurvey55.com before the 30 April 2012.

© Gary Haq 2012

Our Green History

oday environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

Today environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

Over the last 60 years these have evolved with each new environmental cause from nuclear power and pesticide use in the 1960s, to acid rain and the depletion of the ozone layer in the 1970s and 1980s and biodiversity loss and climate change in the 1990s and 2000s. Often these causes have taken hold in different countries at different times, each prompted by particular historical circumstances. For this reason environmentalism has been taken up in many forms across generations and the continents of the world.

The explosion of environmental activity in the 1960s did not represent the creation of an entirely new set of ideas. In 1885 German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) wrote: “It would never occur to me to regard the enjoyment of nature as the invention of the modern age.” The same can be said for modern day interest in the environment.

The fact that modern environmental concern spread following atomic bomb tests and to the backdrop of the Vietnam War is a point much referred to by historians and environmentalists. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962) was amongst the first to link the dangers of the atomic bomb to the misuse of pesticides, emphasising humanity’s capacity to destroy nature and itself.

Over the next ten years a number of publications followed suit, Tragedy of the Commons (1968), and Limits to Growth (1972), raised wider anxieties about the future of the planet, whilst Blueprint for Survival (1972), and Small is Beautiful (1973) sketched out green alternatives. Almost half a century later the anxieties expressed in each of these books are still at the centre of many environmental concerns today.

Media coverage of dramatic pollution events has been instrumental in raising environmental concerns over the last half century.The first major oil spill in Britain occurred when the super tanker Torrey Canyon struck a reef between the UK mainland and the Isles of Scilly in March 1967.

The resulting oil slick covered 120 miles of Cornish coast, killing tens of thousands of birds. Two years later an explosion on the Union Oil Company oil platform, six miles off the coast of Santa Barbara in California, resulted in the release of hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil.

These highly visible examples of humanity’s impact on the environment occurred as the age of colour television began and broadcasters discovered that major pollution events made visually dramatic news stories. Each decade since has witnessed at least one massive oil spill from a super tanker or oil platform, these serve as timely reminders that environmental issues have not gone away.

The history of contemporary environmentalism has been marked by the establishment of new institutions. Campaigns on issues such as pesticide use and nuclear testing led to the development of a new breed of professional campaign groups which have become the public face of environmentalism.

At the same time governments have responded to public concerns about the environment by establishing environmental institutions of their own. Agencies, scientific programmes, international agreements, laws and regulations have been established to support environmental goals.

All this has helped give environmentalism a permanence that has transcended the decades.

This article is based on the book Environmentalism Since 1945 by Gary Haq and Alistair Paul, published by Routledge in September 2011.

© Gary Haq 2011

Selling Off Our Green Heritage

WHEN UK Premier Margaret Thatcher’s government privatised various public utilities in the 1980s she was criticised for ‘selling off the family silver’.
Now the ‘children of Thatcher’ want to sell off the family’s ‘green heritage’.

WHEN UK Premier Margaret Thatcher privatised various public utilities in the 1980s she was criticised for ‘selling off the family silver’.

Now the ‘children of Thatcher’ want to sell off the family’s ‘green heritage’.

As the UK Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government proposes to ‘flog off the forests’ and dispose of 85 per cent of England’s public forest estate, they are receiving increasing opposition from cyclists, horse riders, ramblers to dog walkers and Oscar winning celebrities.

But will a government that wants to empower local people and communities, listen to what they have got to say?

The Forestry Commission currently manages 18 per cent of England’s woodlands. This includes a number of the most sensitive and protected wildlife habitats that form some of our greenest and most pleasant landscapes. The rest are privately owned and cover 931,000 hectares.

The Coalition government believes that other sectors of society might be better placed to own and manage the estate than the Forestry Commission, which has been in operation since 1919.

The public estate currently produces 70 per cent of England’s home grown softwood timber from its holding of 40 per cent of England’s conifer forests.

However, the Environment Minister, Caroline Spelman, argues that the Forestry Commission must be reformed to avoid conflict of interest as it is both a regulator and participant in the market.

By selling off its holdings the Forestry Commission can focus on its regulatory role by providing expertise on a range of tree-related matters.

On 27 January 2011 the Coalition government published a consultation document on the future of the forest estate in England.

In which it proposes a mix-model approach where charitable organisations, community groups and commercial operators buy or lease forests they would like to manage.

The government has divided English woodland into four categories based on their economic value and their social and environmental benefits. These range from ‘large’ and ‘small’ commercially viable forests and woodlands to ‘multi-purpose’ and ‘heritage’ forests.

The heritage forests such as the Forest of Dean and the New Forest will only be sold to charitable trusts.

The Head of the National Trust, Dame Fiona Reynolds, has described the government’s proposal to withdraw from the management and of England’s forests and ancient woodlands as a ‘watershed moment in the history of the nation’.

Another ‘watershed moment’ occurred with the enclosure of common land that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

This involved enclosing a field with a fence or hedge to prevent others from using it. The process allowed the supply of natural raw materials that was essential for the industrial revolution. Peasants were dislodged from their lands and forced to migrate to cities and work in factories.

This resulted in a fundamental shift in the economic relationship between people and their natural environment that dispossessed many while enriching a few, replacing collective rights with private property.

Forests are a large publicly owned asset. And some critics see the Coalition government’s decision to sell them off as being ideologically driven. Those who put their faith in the role of markets to bring social and environmental benefits endorse the selling off of nature.

They see that nature needs to be privately owned and turned into a commodity if its potential is to be realised and the common good is to be served. Yet this brings with it potential risks.

Campaigners against the Coalition government’s plans fear that those woodlands that are sold will not have the same guarantees of access as they have today.

They are concerned that the privatised forests will follow the fate of Rigg Wood – a 16 hectare wood in the Lake District which was sold in October last year. To the local residents dismay the new owner reduced access for visitors by shutting down the car park and dismantling the picnic area.

The forest sell off is part of David Cameron’s Big Society initiative to shift the balance of power from government to society. This will mean that financially strapped charities and communities groups will have to compete with commercial companies and wealthy inheritance tax dodgers, if they want to buy particular woodlands and forests to protect.

There is also no guarantee that a community-owned forest will have sufficient resources to maintain ownership over the long-term.

A Big Society requires politicians big enough to listen and respond when people tell them they have got it wrong. In the International Year of the Forests that celebrates ‘forests for people’ the Coalition government is in danger of preventing many from enjoying England’s most precious natural assets.

Nearly 500,000 people have signed the 38 Degree Save Our Forests petition. However, leading UK Environmentalist, Jonathon Porritt, has criticised Britain’s ten most powerful green groups for betraying the public and making themselves look irrelvant by not supporting the campaign to halt the sale of the England’s forests.

More recently, the Government has announced it would postpone the sell off of 15 per cent of forestland because of concerns over access rights.

However, the government claims that this will not affect its broader proposal to sell nationally owned woods, which is still the subject of public consultation.

Forests offer a vital connection with nature in an increasingly urbanised world. Even those who rarely venture into the woods take comfort in the fact that they exist and are accessible to all.

To sell of our green heritage is to deny future generations the freedom to roam in our woodlands and discover the wonders of nature.

UPDATE

In a statement to the Commons on 17 February 2011, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, who oversaw the controversial proposals, announced the u-turn, saying: “I am sorry, we got this one wrong.”

She said she took “full responsibility” for the climb-down, which was required after it became clear “the public and many MPs are not happy with the proposals”.

“If there is one clear message it is that people cherish their forests and woodlands and the benefits that they bring,” she told the House.

Lets see what happens next …

© Gary Haq 2011

Photo credits: Shutterstock

The Scourge of Time Poverty

WE seem to be in a constant battle against time – fighting to fit everything into our busy schedules. So much so that many of us suffer from “time poverty” – not having enough hours to do what we want. And “time pollution” has now become a feature of our modern way of living.

WE seem to be in a constant battle against time – fighting to fit everything into our busy schedules.

So much so that many of us suffer from “time poverty” – not having enough hours to do what we want. And “time pollution” has now become a feature of our modern way of living.

The monetary value we place on time has caused us to pursue faster speed and higher levels of motorisation and consumption.

This has resulted in us engaging in socially and environmentally-damaging activities. Paradoxically, the more time we save, the less we seem to have.

In his fantasy novel, Momo, Michael Ende wrote about a mysterious young orphaned girl, who arrives in a small town and notices that the inhabitants are starting to change, becoming obsessed with time and money.

Momo discovers that the culprits are the “time thieves” – sinister, ghost-like men who are stealing time.

This has dramatic effects on the residents, who become increasingly restless and irritable. No matter how much time they saved, they never had any to spare. Before they knew it, another week had gone by, another month, and another year.

As a child, my perception of time was very different from the one I have today. Then the school summer holidays seemed like an eternity – time passed very slowly.

As an adult, it’s hard to keep up with all the things one has to do. Psychologist William James put children’s perception of time down to them experiencing everything for the first occasion. Their intense perception of the world around them means that time goes slowly.

As adults we have fewer new experiences, life is more familiar, less information is taken in and time is less stretched. While there are obvious psychological explanations of our perception of time, there are also other societal factors at play.

Growing up in the 1970s, there were fewer gadgets and activities we could waste time on compared with today. We did not have multi-channel 24-hour television, nor did we have a computer, mobile phone, DVD player or game box to distract us. Most of the time was enjoyed playing in the streets with friends.

Life seemed a lot slower and simpler back then, but perhaps I am looking back through rose-tinted spectacles. After all, I did not have to worry about paying bills, going to work or doing housework.

Nowadays, life has gone high speed, with our lack of time contributing to community breakdown.

In the cobbled street where I grew up in Salford (UK), we knew or had a good idea who lived in the 40-plus houses. These days, I know only a handful of neighbours. This is partly because of people being more mobile and more private.

And, like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, many of us are constantly running around muttering that we are late. We are more likely to have a virtual conversation with a total stranger on the other side of the world via Facebook and Twitter than engage in idle chitchat, face to face with our neighbours.

As a society, we have invented numerous ways of saving time. From high-speed trains, fast cars and planes to fast food and all the technologies we use to cut the time it takes to do things. This has resulted in highly energy-intensive and polluting activities.

When people have free time they use it to consume and travel more. We know that many baby boomers are enjoying cosmopolitan lifestyles in their retirement using their “free time” to visit far-flung destinations.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s idea of the Big Society is based partly on the premise that people have the time and the will to get involved in community activities such as running a pub or post office. To do this, we will need to change our attitude to time and how we spend it.

A “Slow Movement” is developing that addresses the issue of “time poverty” by encouraging people to do things at the right pace. It promotes slow food, slow gardening, slow money, slow sex and slow travel. The recession is seen as the perfect time to escape the vicious circle of speed which has taken over our lives.

Time is central to the notion of a greener future. If we are to address the issues of time poverty and time pollution we need to reassess the value we place on time.

Slowing down can help improve the quality of life, making it more enjoyable, happier and greener.

It provides an awareness of the preciousness of every minute, hour and day of our limited lifetime – something we should all enjoy before it’s too late.

© Gary Haq 2011

Photo credits: Shutterstock