James at The Springfields Academy
James with representatives of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards during a Welcome Home Event for 20th Armoured Brigade
James Gray MP welcoming representatives of 20th Armoured Brigade to Parliament
James Gray MP with representatives from Google and The Countryside Alliance Foundation
I have always been a bit of a climate change sceptic, and have spent part of my Summer Recess reading James Delingpole’s interesting and well-written book ‘Watermelons’. He broadly argues that Global Warming is cyclical, and that there is very little evidence that human activity is making it any worse. (I paraphrase his views, but I hope reasonably fairly). So when a friend of mine offered me a chance to visit Spitzbergen to see for myself last month, I jumped at the opportunity.
We visited a multi-national research station called Ny-Ålesund, which is the most northerly permanently inhabited place on the Globe. It was mid-summer, but even so I was surprised to be able to wander round the thirty or so separate research bases in my shirt sleeves. The Fjord was clear of ice, and large cod and herring were being caught further north than ever before. I was shown a hill which within living memory was deep beneath a glacier, and visited for myself the ice fronts falling into the sea before my very eyes. Our guides were meticulous about carrying weapons as a safeguard against Polar Bears (this was where Wiltshire teenager Horatio Chapple was tragically killed by a bear last year). Yet I was told that most of the Polar Bears had retreated north with the ice and would not be troubling us.
So plenty of anecdotal evidence that well into the Arctic Circle, albeit in mid-summer, was much warmer than ever before. And I expected most of the 300 or so scientists we met who were studying climate, glaciers, biodiversity and wildlife and so on would be deeply concerned. The Greenpeace ship anchored in the fjord clearly was. Yet, perhaps because they are cautious scientists, I came away without any real feeling of urgent catastrophe about to befall us. Indeed when I pressed the French scientist who for 30 years had studied one particular glacier which had retreated quite considerably in her lifetime on the subject, she replied with a Gallic shrug “Why do you think they called Greenland Green? Because it was green when the Vikings went there. It takes about 10-15 years to recreate a glacier,” she said and she very much hoped that we were simply going through a warm patch!
But I must not overstate my case. There is no doubt whatsoever of significant warming; of a sharp retreat in the Arctic ice and of dramatic changes in wildlife and native peoples’ ways of life. There is quite plainly something pretty dramatic happening and I most certainly would not want to belittle it. Surely the precautionary principle must apply. If we take action on CO2 and Global warming turns out to have been a false alarm, then we won’t have lost much. Indeed we might even have gained from the imagined crisis since British companies are in the lead in counter-carbon technologies. But if, on the other hand, we do nothing and it turns out to have been for real, then future generations will never forgive us.
It is perfectly true that Greenland would have been green if the Romans had visited it, and again under the Vikings. But it pretty quickly iced up again afterwards. I just very much hope that if I am asked back to Ny-Ålesund ten years from now that I will be able to walk on the ice in the Fjord. If not we have indeed got something to worry about.
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