The Big Challenge: Taking a long view on Sheffield's climate
I came to Sheffield eight years ago to advance my research on stem cells and it was here that I discovered my passion to help develop a more environmentally sustainable, innovative and safer future.
This can only be achieved if we stop climate change.
Hence, together with a small team of visionaries, I founded the Carbon Neutral University Network at Sheffield University.
We are an open network of students, staff and the public committed to encourage and develop the solutions to support the university to become Carbon Neutral (i.e. not be a net producer of carbon dioxide) by 2025. If we work together as a university and city, we can lead the way towards this future.
My priority for this year has been to build an environmental passion at the university, slowly chipping away at the old ways that stop us from moving towards a more fascinating and promising tomorrow.
I founded the Carbon Neutral University Network in 2014, asking the university to make the reduction of carbon emissions a priority, enabling us locally to help avert the climate crisis.
The climate science is clear - we only have a few decades left to reduce our CO2 emissions to zero worldwide.
Universities can also play a valuable role in hosting events to share knowledge and ideas.
One important change we need to make in Sheffield is to improve our ageing buildings – stopping them from leaking heat, reducing our heating bills and stopping the need to burn gas, which is not just warming our homes and our offices but the whole planet as well.
Hence, we are currently organising an event entitled ‘The Future of Buildings – a Retrofit Showcase’ next Wednesday, November 9, in the Diamond building at the university. This free evening of seminars, networking sessions and panel discussions will focus on ‘retrofitting’ older buildings up to a ‘Passivhaus’ standard, which basically means reducing the energy needed to heat your home to almost nothing.
We have invited a number of expert architects and engineers to tell us how this can be done.
My biggest concern for life on this planet is climate change. I do not want our poles to melt, our winters to disappear, and our towns to be flooded, or people having to leave their homes because their land has become uninhabitable.
Our wasteful lifestyle in the developed countries, and especially in the UK which was at the heart of the industrial revolution, is responsible for this destruction and it needs to change.
So if I could have a magic wand, I would like an immediate change in everyone’s attitude, away from consuming the planet’s resources towards less wasteful behaviours, providing a greener, cleaner and happier world for all of us.
Sheffield is already an excellent outdoor city. I regularly recharge my energy by strolling through the Rivelin valley or visiting the Peak District’s beautiful valleys and charming villages.
However, I do think more needs to be done to integrate this green flavour into the city as a whole. The environment is currently threatened rather than helped by economic development, and too often short-term economic thinking prevents long term benefits.
Everybody needs to take more responsibility, and most people would if the government and the media would provide better information and infrastructure for people to choose well.
The options for a cleaner and happier future are available, but the policies are not in place for people to act easily. Volunteers all over the city spend their time studying, innovating and providing solutions that are worth listening to.
This means we are halfway there, but the council needs to tap into these resources and add their own to develop the best possible action plan for our local and global environment.
In fact the plans are already there - an environmental excellence strategy was developed in 2009 and in 2016 the Sheffield Green Commission published the Sheffield Green Commitment, outlining a vision for a sustainable city.