One of the most important issues facing us today is how to educate and empower young people on climate change, and this time our event included a session with 35 16-18 year olds drawn from local sixth forms in Newcastle. Using DECC’s My2050 Calculator, our hosts David MacKay and Mark Lynas sought the youth of Newcastle’s input on how to make the UK sustainable and reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.
Unsurprisingly, Newcastle’s teenagers had strong views on what a sustainable UK might look like in 2050. On the demand side, they went hell-for-leather as they opted for one ambition option after another. They chose to forego their creature comforts (and put on jumpers!) as they decreased home temperatures to 16ºC, added extra insulation to 60% of homes, and decided that half of domestic heat would be supplied by electricity. There were big changes for transport too, with 100% electric vehicles and people relinquishing cars for 40% of journeys in 2050.
There were plenty of questions and comments too, which unpicked the wider implications of the energy challenge. From public transport systems being much cheaper and more reliable in other countries, the danger of power cuts if heating is supplied by electricity, to people not having the money to afford energy efficient improvements to their home, the teenagers highlighted the complexities of the stark choices facing us.
In terms of supply, one of the main areas of interest was wind turbines. They aired a number of concerns, from the impact on bird populations to intermittent supply. When the time came to vote, the broad range of opinions was strongly evident, with some opting to phase out wind altogether, and others electing for hugely ambitious increases in wind power by 2050. Overall though, the majority went for a fairly ambitious target of 13,000 turbines on land and 13,000 offshore turbines by 2050.
Nuclear power was also an area of high interest, with plenty of questions about where radioactive waste can be buried, which elements can be used for the process and the potential for accidents such as Fukushima. It was again clear that there were a range of conflicting views, but overall the sixth formers voted for 4 times as much nuclear power as today.
Other energy technologies did not evade the teenager’s curiosities. As the mic made its way around the room, there were questions about how regional differences impact on solar panels, the future potential of hydro power, and the impact of wave and tidal on wildlife. On the whole, the teenagers voted for very ambitious growth on solar, marine and hydro and bioenergy crops covering half the size of Wales at home and half the size of Wales overseas. There was a reasonable amount of support for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) too, with the majority voting for a roll out of the technology with 45 gas/coal stations in 2050 storing their carbon.
As the final choices were made it became clear that the teenagers had exceeded the target, achieving emissions of 17% in 2050 when compared with 1990 levels!
Later on in the afternoon, David MacKay and Mark Lynas hosted their second session of the day with an audience of approximately 100 influencers from across the Newcastle community. It was clear that demand was a big area for Newcastle’s residents, with emphasis on areas such as transport and heating, and some great suggestions on how the calculator could be improved. Our audience were also keen for Newcastle to build on its industrial roots, voting for a doubling in UK manufacturing output by 2050. You can see the pathway to 2050 chosen by the audience on the energy pathways calculator.
Running alongside the discussions was a large-scale energy exhibition with over 350 visitors making the journey to see 24 companies. The core of the exhibition remained the same as in Manchester but there were plenty of newcomers too, reflecting the local aspect of the energy challenge.
Keen to tell the consumer story were National Energy Action (NEA), a charity headquartered in Newcastle, and Warm up North, who had just launched their energy efficiency scheme for homes. There was strong representation for renewable energy technologies too. Pelamis Wave Power showed how the UK is leading the world in unlocking the potential of wave technology, and the National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) had an amazing stand where guests could build their own anemometer (which is a device for measuring wind speed)!
The Met Office returned with a jazzed up version of their mini TV studio, where visitors were able to put their climate change questions to scientists (you can watch their video of the day on Youtube).
If all this sounds interesting to you, don’t miss out on our event in Bristol on 10th October. This will comprise of: