Environmental practices need 'wholesale change,' UK prof. says

'I'm trying to hasten the discussion about the choices we have to make to stop global warming.'

israeli hills nature 88 (photo credit: )
israeli hills nature 88
(photo credit: )
"I'm trying to hasten the discussion about the choices we have to make to stop global warming," Prof. Paul Wilkinson told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. Wilkinson, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the University of London, was the keynote speaker at the first Environment and Health conference sponsored by the Environment and Health Fund (EHF). "There is no doubt we need to make some tough choices in the coming years in order to reduce emissions, but [making] some of those choices now can make life more palatable and attractive," he told the Post. "The pertinent questions are: What would a pleasanter world look like? What is feasible? Living more active lifestyles where cities are less congested and less polluted would certainly be better." According to Wilkinson, the current debate on climate change is too constrained. "The UK government treads very carefully [around this issue]. We haven't made it clear where we need to go. People need to be very clear. They need to know what the challenges and the choices are. The more people understand, the more they can change. "We need to 'signpost.' We need to decide where we want to be in the next ten years, 30 years, etc and we need to figure out what our big goal is. If we want to build more nuclear power plants, for example, we need to start thinking about that now, because they take ten years to build," he said. Wilkinson noted in his address that emissions would need to be reduced by 80-90 percent by mid-century in order to achieve reasonable emission levels . "That is wholesale change, which is not easy," he said. Climate change is the biggest environmental concern and should therefore be addressed first, Wilkinson said. He stressed that a systems analysis perspective must be taken, however, when trying to determine what our main objectives are. He went on to say that focusing on just one industry or aspect isn't going to work, as there are connecting factors which range from better lifestyles to curbing pollution. Pollution in London is a good example, Wilkinson said. A congestion charge was introduced there a few years ago to try and reduce vehicle emissions, but the data shows that it didn't really work. It didn't work because the pollution in London is not just local, it comes in from all over the area and some is even blown in across the Channel from northern France, he explained. Meanwhile, London pollution is also spreading to other areas. A comprehensive solution would stress the various benefits of reducing automobile use, Wilkinson continued. "An average woman, 35-44, would lose 15 grams of fat a day if she spent more time walking or cycling and less time in a car," he said, adding that her risk of premature death would be seriously reduced. The conference also featured panels on the connections between the environment and public health in Israel.