Important legal notice
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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 46 - August 2005    
 Facts, figures and future prospects
 Five-yearly assessment: interview with Erkki Ormala
 The boundaries of surveillance
 Biometrics and justice
 School and equality
 A week with the stars

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OPINION Printable version

Urgent appeal

I am a non-executive director at the UK Meteorological Office, and in my informal talks with senior people there and from all the data I have seen it has become clear to me that we face a far more serious problem than the public generally seems to acknowledge. I am not involved with any ‘green’ organisation or pressure group: I am simply (I hope) a well-informed and concerned citizen. I do not pretend to offer a simple solution; but I think it is important to ensure that all people of influence are more fully aware of the scale of the problem so that at the least we can begin to address it properly.

The real difficulty is that what happens in the next few years will not have an immediate impact on our global lives, and so it is all too easily ignored by politicians and public alike. But if we do not work urgently to find a substantial solution now, within ten years we could be facing a totally irreversible catastrophe. For instance, Great Britain over time might easily become tropical in its climate; areas south of Britain could easily become so hot and arid that life cannot be supported there. This would lead to world food shortages and a refugee problem on a scale we could not manage, as people from those areas clamour for a place in the parts of the globe where survival is possible. The potential for wars and desperate action is obvious. All this is predicated by observed trends way outside the ‘normal’ fluctuations in climate and is not simply the opinion of a small partial body of opinion. It is the scientific reality agreed by the world's leading climate specialists.

To precipitate this disastrous scenario we only need to see a rise in global temperatures of one or two degrees within our lifetime. We are currently well on course for such a rise. The actual catastrophe I have described will probably not come until well after we are gone, which makes it all the more tempting for us to ignore the problem. But if we do, we will die knowing that we have left the world to an inescapable fate that our generation might have averted.

Can I therefore appeal to you to do all you can to ensure that our leaders give urgent attention to this problem and not simply push it aside in the hope that somehow the catastrophe will go away. It will not do so without a global response as caring and resolutely united as was the response to the recent tsunami.

  • David Filkin
    Head of BBC 1’s Science Department for many years, David Filkin was the independent producer of the series
    Stephen Hawking’s Universe. Today he is a member of the UK’s Meteorological Office Audit Committee.