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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 09:53 GMT
David Bellamy: Climate questions

Professor David Bellamy, international botanist, author and broadcaster, is one of Britain's best-known environmental campaigners.

Hello, and welcome to today's online chat with botanist and environmentalist David Bellamy. David is ready to start answering your questions. Here's the first question.

Simon Calvert:
With regard to global warming there are so many different views on how it is caused, like the greenhouse effect and the global cycle of warming up and cooling down. Is there any scientific evidence to support either of these hypothosis or is the situation such that no one knows and therefore prepare for the worse greenhouse effect?

David Bellamy:
I don't think any scientist with their hand on their heart at the moment can say which was the main cause of global warming, but certainly the burning of fossil fuels cannot be helping the problem. So we should all do our best to cut down on energy use and plug our homes into solar power if we can.

Jenny Pearce:
Making environmental issues appeal to children has been one of your successes. Which success are you most proud of?

David Bellamy:
A difficult question because in the 40 years I have been campaigning we have lost so much. We are still losing one species of plant from every county of Britain every year so I don't think I have been very successful...but all over the world people are beginning to do things themselves and that is good news. The green renaissance has begun. We are winning.

Nick Gostick:
Do you think that we would rather blame others i.e. big business and industry rather than admit our own responsibility for pollution as consumers?

David Bellamy
Well I do agree that both industry and especially government should be able to help us to make the right decisions. Take for instance the floods, why do we build houses and supermarkets on drained wetlands when we know they will be flooded? Why don't we ban tobacco when we know it causes so many problems?

Ben Jarrett:
Do you think the floods have made people aware of what now can really happen and that it does affect life?

David Bellamy
It certainly has given people and insurance companies a big shock but much of the damage need not have happened if we put our catchments back into good balance. Our uplands are over-grazed. 150,000 miles of hedgerows have been destroyed and the soil has little organic matter. So when it rains we get floods.

Stephen Horn:
Don't you feel that the consumer cannot make informed decisions about purchases, and thus affecting the economy in a green way, due to a lack of information on the products involved?

David Bellamy
Certainly we do need information. I think it is interesting that more people are now demanding organic food and as we have the right labelling I think more people will join the organic movement whatever the Government advisers say.

Melanie Simpson, England:
How much of the recent weather would you account directly to anthropogenic factors? Do you think it is more than the natural cycles of the earth, and a maximum in the interglacial?

David Bellamy
Certainly the burning of fossil fuels, the drainage of wetlands, the felling of forest and the erosion of soil is all affecting the earth's temperature. The earth is in a very sick state and therefore 30-year storms when they come cause havoc. We must also remember that the poor people of the world are affected much more than the rich people. We may lose property, they lose their lives and their livelihoods.

Jeff Vernon:
David, I planted an Ash tree with you in 1987 when I was six and just to let you know its still alive and well in Surrey!

David Bellamy:
Well done - go and give it a hug!

Do you drive a car? If so, can you justify it?

David Bellamy:
I do drive a car. I live in a village that has one bus a week in the wrong direction. So I drive to the railway station and on cross-country visits, even further.

Julie Richards:
What do you think should be people's every day priorities in trying to reduce the climate change problem?

David Bellamy:
Start the day by using a tooth mug - that saves 10 litres of water. It makes you think environment and save energy all the rest of the day.

Malcolm MacGregor:
Couldn't you cycle?

David Bellamy:
I do cycle. I live at the bottom of a one-in-five hill. If I had to cycle to London it would be 264 miles. I couldn't do much work and I am heading for 70 years of age!

Michael Barrett:
David, do you think that maybe the best way to bring the USA onboard with cutting pollution levels is to go ahead without them and the effect would be to shame them into acting further down the line?

David Bellamy:
A good idea but would we shame them? They think they are the greatest and they certainly abuse the environment with their profligate use of energy. Why don't they become as energy-efficient as Japan and why don't we!

Stephen Horn:
The pressure on housing is immense. I live in a town called Hornsea and despite protests, petitions and even the intervention of riot police, our green field sites were still built on. Wouldn't the regeneration of city centres be much more viable and beneficial?

David Bellamy:
Absolutely. I know Hornsea quite well - carry on campaigning to stop the in-fill. There are also 1.4 million empty buildings in cities and most people, single-parent families and old people who are retiring would rather have the convenience of city life.

Donald Shelley, Grimsby, UK:
You have been speaking out and seeking to educate the public for decades on the threats to our planet. Given the threats we are facing today, has it all just been a waste of time?

David Bellamy:
I hope not. In this the millennium year I turned down 1400 engagements across the world and of those are good news stories. People who are so fed up and sick and tired of the way their home patch is being ruined by other people that they are doing something about it. So if my campaigning has had any positive effect on that then I am a happy man.

David Wilson:
David, I have heard an argument for protecting the rain forests by storing nuclear waste in them. The rationale being that nature adapts better the nuclear waste than humans. Do you think this could be a workable idea or very dangerous gamble?

David Bellamy:
Why should desperately poor countries look after rich countries' problems? We are still losing rain forests at an ever-increasing rate. We produced atomic waste in this country, we should store it and deal with it in this country.

James Richardson:
Do you think that the Britain is so far behind many other European countries in environmental matters (recycling, renewable energy etc)?

David Bellamy:
I think we are certainly lagging but many other European countries are still exporting their waste now to Russia. We don't do that and we are the main country in Europe that tries to abide by the environmental laws that come out of Europe. Many other countries say they are green but don't act very green.

Ian Carr:
Don't you feel that people choosing organic foods show that they don't trust biological scientists (after unexpected problems with BSE and AIDS) and that means they are unlikely to be moved by predictions of global warming?

David Bellamy:
A very complex link. Organic food has allowed the human race to develop a population of 2 billion. We now have 6 billion. I think in future we will be fed more with organic food but also that integrated crop management which can guarantee no pollution by pesticide and fertilizers will play a major part.

Mal Fisher, Australia:
Remember how you met Andrew Lo and some Save Manly Dam Campaigners in Australia earlier this year? Well the fight to protect the habitat of the climbing galaxia has now been lost and rare bush land bulldozed. Is there any hope for the planet when endangered species can't even be conserved in a major city?

David Bellamy:
That is very, very bad news. Don't give up hope you fought the good fight and although you lost, we must carry on fighting.

Tony Bellows:
The individual often feels powerless when Governments seem to ignore problems of the environment or use spin to masquerade a lack of action. What can we do individually to put pressure on governments?

David Bellamy:
Join one of the many non-governmental organisations. There is one for every taste - the wildlife trusts, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, FOE and Greenpeace - and believe it or not there are another 9,000 in Britain alone. So join one of these.

Stephen Horn:
With the Internet revolution under way, and its impact being felt in protests (e.g. fuel), do you feel that our voices are becoming increasingly more potent?

David Bellamy:
I think there is a problem of the Tower of Babel. I worry when I read on Internet sites codswallop and downright lies. How do, especially young people, make the decision as to who to listen to. Just think of the problem if Adolf Hitler had had the Internet? I am not a Luddite but use with great care.

Giancarlo Rossi:
How long will it be before the fossil fuels like oil, coal etc run out?

David Bellamy:
We don't know but 1.4 billion Chinese now wanting their share it won't be very long - and we should not be burning them anyway because they are the only raw material we have for our plasto-chemical future. The World should plug into wave power, solar power and use fuel cells as quickly as possible.

Blue Whiting:
Talking of fuel, are protesters right to demand lower prices or would this lead to more pollution?

David Bellamy:
It really worries me if fuel did not get to a hospital, an abattoir or a nuclear processing plant. Immense damage would be caused. We have got to put the infrastructure of alternatives and energy saving into action and as quickly as possible.

Graeme Harris:
Do you think that space exploration, especially to Mars, which is predicted by the year 2020, should be cancelled until we at least learn to look after our own planet?

David Bellamy:
As a scientist I think this world should continue space exploration because such projects are the mother of invention but so are wars. So we must do it very carefully.

Mark Matthews:
Are you going to be making anymore wildlife series in the near future?

David Bellamy:
Well, I would love to but as Julian Pettifer has been recently told by the BBC that if he didn't resign from the presidency of the RSPB he would not be allowed to make programmes anymore. I am the president and vice-president of 42 NGOs- that is my problem. I have at least 600 ideas for wildlife programmes in my head - Is anyone out there listening?

Matthew Willis:
Why have you not included Nuclear in your list of 'alternative fuels'? Surely it is the only real environmentally friendly option.

David Bellamy:
Well if you say so I don't know why. America has not commissioned new atomic power stations since the 1970s. We still don't know how much it will actually cost to decommission an atomic power station and when we have we will have to look after the waste for 20,000 years. Can the questioner guarantee political stability for more than four.

Ben Jarrett:
Can you recommend any good reading material or web sites for us all to visit?

David Bellamy:
You probably are a better expert than I on web sites. Contact your local Friends of the Earth web site, they usually give good basic common sense. Or if you want to read a book, try Tim Flannery's the Future Eaters.

Jon Peters:
Do you agree with the system of Carbon Credits as suggested by the US and planting huge forests to absorb co2?

David Bellamy:
Carbon credits are the politics of despair - carry on polluting while somebody else pays the price. If carbon credits were given to old growth forests to undrain wetlands to organic soil and to wilderness which stores vast amounts of carbon already, I would agree. The planting of new forests, not plantations, that is forests with the right trees in the right place is also a very good idea to heal the earth and soak up carbon.

Mark Dutton:
Why is it so hard to find recycled products on the market when loads of stuff is collected to be recycled?

David Bellamy:
The problem is that recycling often uses more energy and can create more pollution than simply dumping. We need a total radical and public re-think of what we do with waste. Recycle what we can and then turn the rest into useful energy - this is now a distinct possibility.

Tim Weiskel:
How can we address the need to create an alliance between environmentalists and consumers?

David Bellamy:
I think that that is beginning to happen. More and more people - when they allowed to - are beginning to make the right choices. Listen to Prince Charles, he has got some very good ideas and he is doing something too.

Tim Weiskel:
Do you agree that the problem is not merely one of efficiency, but rather of arriving at a new sensibility of self-imposed, self-restraint?

David Bellamy:
When I was young, we didn't have much money and there wasn't much to spend your money on. Now my grandson craves computers, play-stations, Pokemons - how do you impose self-restraint when the media tells you to buy more and more. It is such a good question I will go on. We used to worry about 1984 and Big Brother - with a television set that watched everything we did - now we have television sets that tell us to buy more more and more. I hope you have self-restraint.

Colin Hart:
If you had the opportunity to put one piece of legislation on the UK statutes, what would it be?

David Bellamy:
No more building on any green belt or green space for the next 10 years.

Guy Rogers:
What have enjoyed most out of your career

David Bellamy:
I have been one of the most privileged people on earth. I travel the world and see the problems but also meet people who know they can solve them - that is the best of all.

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