Dr Mayer Hillman has conducted research into the development of public policy on the areas of transport, road safety, urban planning, energy conservation, waste avoidance, health promotion and the environment.
In recent years, he has focused on the all-embracing implications of global climate change and how we can limit it.
In his studies he has aimed to provide evidence that will aid policy reform, repeatedly highlighting the inadequacy of attention paid to social and environmental issues, to intra- and inter-generational equity, and to the rights of those groups in the population with little, if any, public voice.
- In 1972, he criticised out-of-town shopping centres more than 20 years before the government changed planning rules to stop their spread.
- In 1980, he recommended halting the closure of branch line railways – only now are some closed lines reopening.
- In 1984, he proposed energy ratings for houses – finally adopted as government policy in 2007.
- And, more than 40 years ago, he presciently challenged society’s pursuit of economic growth”.
But political parties focus on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels.
Progress has been hindered by the unwillingness of politicians and their advisers to acknowledge the significance of any new evidence that challenges the status quo in conventional thinking and practice.
The data is clear; the climate is warming exponentially
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts (Emissions Gap Report, executive summary section 5) that the world on its current course will warm by 3C by 2100 and scientists struggle to predict the full impact of the feedbacks from future events such as methane being released by the melting of the permafrost.
Global emissions were static in 2016 but the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was confirmed as beyond 400 parts per million, according to The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the UN weather agency’s annual flagship report, the highest level for at least three million years (when sea levels were up to 20m higher than now). Concentrations can only drop if we emit no carbon dioxide whatsoever, says Hillman. “Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return.”
“Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown.”
He believes that accepting that our civilisation is doomed could make humanity rather like an individual who recognises he is terminally ill. Such people rarely go on a disastrous binge; instead, they do all they can to prolong their lives. But he fears it will be a long time before we take proportionate action to stop climatic calamity.
“We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on.”
During his interview with Barkham, Hillman referred to his best-known research, which challenged the supremacy of the car as a side issue: “With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport is almost irrelevant,” he says.
“Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”
The world’s population must globally move to zero emissions:
- across agriculture,
- air travel,
- shipping, heating homes – every aspect of our economy
- and reduce our human population too.
Can it be done without a collapse of civilisation? “I don’t think so,” says Hillman. “Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families?”
Hillman’s last words on the home page of his website are: “Our continuing uneconomic growth makes us complicit in a process that is triggering an ecological catastrophe for our children and generations beyond them. They will justifiably sit in judgment on our failure to have prevented its devastating consequences knowing that we chose to look the other way”.