We are all concerned about the future of our planet. Levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere have undoubtedly risen above those of the pre-industrial era, and global temperatures also appear to be on an upward trend.
However, we are also lucky to live in a time when these problems can be recognised and addressed. For example, food crops can be modified to better withstand drought or pests, which allows vulnerable people to have more food security while at the same time reducing our impact on the environment. Fewer people go hungry than ever before.
These successes sometimes do not get the recognition they deserve because they are an incremental improvement: no headline will ever say that a new vaccine reached an additional 0.0001% of the world’s children today, for example. But this goes on, day after day, year after year, and over time the world has become a much better place.
Sometimes, though, there are step changes that cannot be overlooked. One of these successes involves the use of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. These chemicals were, at one time, a hugely important refrigerant. This is important because vaccines, for example, often do not react well to heat. If we want to stamp out tropical diseases, we need refrigerators.
However, in the mid-1980s, scientists at the British Antarctic Survey noticed that atmospheric ozone was becoming depleted, which was allowing more of the sun’s UV radiation (strongly linked to skin cancer) to reach the surface. This was judged to be due to the presence of CFCs in the atmosphere.
The UK then led much of the global effort to ban the use of CFCs, and went on to insist that rich countries must contribute to the costs poorer countries would face in finding alternative refrigerants. It worked. Refrigeration is still largely affordable, and the ozone layer is now recovering.
The nationalists today talk up wind turbines and wave power, and these are important things. But, if we want to detect global problems we need a global research base, and if we want to drive global solutions we need a global influence. The UK, one of the world’s leading economies, gives us the critical mass we need to meet these global responsibilities. We don’t need to think small to care about the wider world. We achieve more, and deliver more, when we work together.
Britain is changing the world. Let’s get on with being part of it. No more referendums.