Hankley Common

The distance from Hankley Common to Dunsfold is around 10 miles. A broad rule of thumb for estimating the spread of wildfires in dry conditions is that the rate of advance of the fire will be at 10% of the windspeed. Two weeks ago, when Hankley Common was ablaze for the third time in as many weeks, the winds were gusting at up to 20 miles per hour. In those conditions an unchecked fire could have reached Dunsfold in five hours.

If UK Oil and Gas is successful in its bid to drill for gas at Dunsfold, then the gap between one of the primary causes of climate chaos, and one its devasting effects will be just 10 miles. Right now, with support of the Good Law project, Protect Dunsfold is seeking a statutory review of the decision by the government to overturn two refusals by Surrey County Council to allow drilling for oil at Dunsfold.

Increasingly it seems that legal pressure is becoming a productive arm of initiatives to avert climate breakdown. As temperatures soared in mid-July, a high court judge ruled that the government’s Net Zero Strategy, which sets out plans to decarbonise the economy, doesn’t meet its own obligations under the Climate Change Act to produce detailed climate policies that show how the UK’s legally-binding carbon budgets will be met. The judge found that parliament and the public were effectively kept in the dark about a shortfall in meeting a key target to cut emissions. He found that the minister who signed off the Net Zero Strategy didn’t have the legally required information on how carbon budgets would be met.

To people who are informed about climate change and its causes, none of this is especially surprising. We continue to learn more and more of the way in which oil and gas companies have hidden or denied the dangers of climate chaos from burning fossil fuels. The BBC has a powerful documentary, Big Oil v The World, which lays bare the truth that oil companies knew about what would happen to the climate as they plundered, and we collectively burned its resources. Predictably, the oil and gas companies put profits before life on earth. Predictably, governments were duped by the big corporations and failed to take the action that even then was known would avoid climate disaster. The truth of this is unsurprising, as is the denial, even now, by part of the media. One newspaper who reviewed the programme referred to the ‘alleged link between the fossil fuel industry and climate change’. It makes you wonder what planet they are on. Clearly not the one that we have seen burning over recent weeks in England, France, Spain, Portugal, the USA and more.

In 1995, COP1 was held in Berlin. It’s around 2,500 miles from Berlin to Sharm El-Sheikh, the venue for COP27 later this year. Assuming a wildfire were to spread out of control, under the wind conditions at Hankley Common on Sunday, from Berlin to Sharm El-Sheikh, it would engulf the latter in 1,250 hours. The time gap between COP1 and COP27 is 27 years, that’s around 236,000 hours. It’s completely self-evident that we are just not finding solutions quickly enough! Climate chaos is outrunning us.

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