The 86 -year-old social scientist says accepting the impending objective of most life on Earth might be the very thing needed to help us prolong it
” We’re doomed ,” says Mayer Hillman with such a beaming smile that it takes a moment for the words to sink in.” The outcome is demise, and it’s the end of most life on countries around the world because we’re so is highly dependent on the burning of fossil fuel. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so .”
Hillman, an 86 -year-old social scientist and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute, does say so. His bleak forecast of the consequence of runaway climate change, he says without fanfare, is his” last will and testament “. His last intervention in public life.” I’m not going to write anymore because there’s nothing more that can be said ,” he says when I first hear him speak to a stunned audience at the University of East Anglia late last year.
From Malthus to the Millennium Bug, apocalyptic thinking has a poor track record. But when it issues from Hillman, it may be worth paying attention. Over virtually 60 years, his research has used factual data to challenge policymakers’ conventional wisdom. In 1972, he criticised out-of-town shopping centres more than 20 years before the government changed planning regulations to stop their spread. In 1980, he recommended halting the closure of branch line railways- only now are some shut lines reopening. In 1984, he proposed energy ratings for homes- finally adopted as government policy in 2007. And, more than 40 years ago, he presciently challenged society’s pursuit of economic growth.
When we meet at his converted coach house in London, his classic Dawes racer still parked hopefully in the hallway( a stroke and a triple heart bypass entail he is- currently- forbidden from cycling ), Hillman is anxious we are not side-tracked by his best-known research, which challenged the supremacy of the car.
” With doom ahead, making a example for cycling as the primary mode of transport is almost irrelevant ,” he says.” We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuel, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which scarcely use fossil fuel, are what we must focus on .”
While the focus of Hillman’s thinking for the last quarter-century has been on climate change, he is best known for his work on road safety. He spotted the damaging impact of the car on the freedoms and safety of those without one– most significantly, children- decades ago. Some of his policy prescriptions have become banality- such as 20 mph velocity restrictions- but we’ve failed to curb the car’s crushing of children’s autonomy. In 1971, 80% of British seven- and eight-year-old children went to school on their own; today it’s virtually unthinkable that a seven-year-old would stroll to school without an adult. As Hillman has pointed out, we’ve removed children around hazard rather than removing peril from children- and filled roads with polluting automobiles on school runnings. He calculated that escorting children took 900 m adult hours in 1990, expensing the economy PS20bn each year. It will be even more expensive today.
Our society’s failure to comprehend the true cost of cars has informed Hillman’s view on the difficulty of combatting climate change. But he insists that I must not present his thinking on climate change as” an opinion “. The data is clear; the climate is warming exponentially. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the world on its current course will warm by 3C by 2100. Recent rewrote climate modelling indicated a best estimation of 2.8 C but scientists struggle to predict the full impact of the feedbacks from future events such as methane being released by the melting of the permafrost.
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