Five things to help the planet

Environmental protesters make news when they block traffic and stop working people from being able to use public transport to get to work. When they do this in the UK, they are targeting the wrong country. In fact the UK is among those reducing their CO2 emissions fastest. Its carbon emissions are down 38 percent since 1990, and are still falling steadily. The UK's share of global emissions from fuel combustion is only 1 percent. Its decision to phase out coal-fired power stations has made a big contribution. China (28 percent), and India (6 percent) are bigger polluters, largely because they are both still developing, and polluting energy is cheaper than clean energy. The United States (15 percent) is also among the big ones.

There are several things that could help the planet. Many, if not all of them might be opposed by those who affect to campaign on behalf of the planet. It could be that the aforementioned campaigners are in some degree technophobes, longing for a simpler, slower life. In wishing people would live more simply and limit their desires, they distrust technologies that might enable people to cope with what the modern world is, and is becoming, and which might enable them to fulfil, rather than to limit, their desires.

1. Nuclear power

Nuclear energy does not use fossil fuels and does not release noxious gases into the atmosphere. It is carbon friendly, and the newer pebble bed reactors are safer because they cannot melt down. The older type of reactors use multiple, redundant, engineered shutdown, cooling, and containment systems, whereas pebble bed reactors are safe because the basic physics increases neutron absorption if the temperature rises. Furthermore, they are cooled by helium gas, which is chemically inert and not radioactive, so the high temperature helium gas can directly power turbines to generate electricity at 45 percent efficiency, compared to typical 33 percent efficiencies in the older types. Nuclear power can give the world a significant proportion of the energy it needs, and in an environmentally friendly way.

2. Genetic modification

Quite apart from the huge benefits that genetically modified organisms will bring into medicine, their impact on agriculture will be huge and benign. GM crops can be made saline and drought resistant, able to grow in places that conventional crops cannot. Varieties can be made that will be pest-resistant and self-fertilizing, reducing the impact of pesticides and fertilizers on the environment. Crops can be made to yield more food per acre, reducing the pressure to cut down rainforest land in order to grow more crops. It is a technology that will enable us to increase food production at a faster rate than global population is increasing, with less impact on the planet than conventional crops have. It heralds a second 'green revolution,' one that will enable us to feed ourselves with a smaller footprint on the planet.

3. Hydraulic fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as fracking, offers many benefits. It can make Western nations less dependent for their energy on unstable or unpredictable parts of the world such as the Middle East and Russia. Its main benefit is the reserve supply of natural gas it allows access to and production of. While natural gas is indeed a fossil fuel, it is a relatively low-polluting one, putting out fewer emissions than oil, and far fewer than coal. This means that as coal-fired power stations are phased out and replaced by gas-fired ones, pollution is cut dramatically. The same is true, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent, when oil-fired power stations are replaced by gas. Gas from fracking is thus an interim measure that can replace the more polluting methods of power generation until renewables such as solar can carry more of the load.

4. Cultured meats

Cultured meats, known in media shorthand as "lab-grown" meats, are those produced without animal husbandry. Instead of rearing animals for food, cultured meats are produced by taking a few animal cells and growing them in a culture of nutrients. Techniques have been developed to give the resultant meat the texture of animal meat, and to incorporate cells from blood, collagen and fat, as well as muscle, so it has the taste of animal meat as well. When the first cultured burger was unveiled in 2013, it had taken 2 years and cost $300,000 to produce. By 2017, this had dropped to $11.36, and is still falling. It will soon be as cheap, then cheaper, to produce than traditional meat. It has much less environmental impact, since no methane expelled from animals is involved, and no antibiotics are used, leading to less risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Of course, far less land is needed for cultured meats, and it need not be fertile land involving the destruction of rainforests. As the world becomes richer, the demand for a diet that includes meat is rising, but cultured meats can meet this while simultaneously having lower environmental impact, and using much less land.

5. Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism can help the planet because it produces wealth, and wealth enables people to afford to produce more cleanly and to afford to do what it takes to have a smaller impact upon the Earth's systems. Neoliberalism has, in the past few decades, made the people of the world richer than they have ever been. It has made wealth more evenly distributed, with the poor gaining most. The idea that "the gap is widening" is completely false; it has never been narrower. There is a Kuznets Curve for development, in which poorer nations pollute, but do so less when they become richer. The wealth generated by the pursuit of neoliberal policies has done more than lift billions from poverty and subsistence; it has funded the research and technology that are providing solutions to environmental problems, including the technologies covered above.

Those who block the streets and glue themselves to trains like to dramatize the idea that the world is headed for extinction. It is not. We don't need their theatricals to draw attention to the problems. We already know about them, and are in the process of providing solutions to them. There will be other problems, of course, and we will solve those, too. It's what we do.