Agreement on fossil fuels but not on their possible replacement

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

A protest at Queen’s University in Belfast has been calling for the university to sell shares it holds in fossil fuel companies.

There is now overwhelming agreement around the world that the global reliance on fossil fuels has been very damaging to the environment, even though there is huge disagreement as to the extent of the damage.

Despite this disagreement, and despite the fact that developing nations feel (with good reason) that they are being penalised with energy policies and coming restraints that western nations never had to contend with as they were developing, a historic agreement was reached last week in Paris.

This is a reflection of the seriousness with which almost all countries now view possible rises in future temperatures.

But it is far from clear the extent to which this deal will be adhered to.

The big hope is that astonishingly rapid improvements in technology will make renewables a much more important component in our coming power needs, particularly with respect to solar power. It is, however, a long way off before such technology, or indeed wind power, is able to meet more than a fraction of our needs.

In the meantime, activists in the political parties represented at Queen’s have shown little enthusiasm for nuclear power, which is carbon free. Indeed, both the Green Party and Sinn Fein have been implacably hostile to Sellafield, which poses risks that are in fact minuscule to Northern Ireland.

Nuclear power is far from perfect, principally because of waste disposal, and the long-term ethical questions that that poses (how can we be sure that societies thousands of years from now will be able to pinpoint the still dangerous waste sites, or even understand the issues?)

In the meantime, however, nuclear has to be part of the mix – unless of course, we are all prepared to slash our energy usage. Given that even parties such as Sinn Fein are keen on road upgrades such as the A5, there is little chance of widespread support for such cuts.