Provided, of course, that the political will to act is sustained. That is where the bad part came in spades. Trump has the political will to try and derail and hold up any action that undermines the oil interests that back him to the hilt. He is now a very powerful man and he is not without influential allies at home and abroad. Since Brexit that includes much of the British government. There has been a dangerous increase in the number of Ministers who choose to tell us that we need to forget all this dodgy science stuff and just concentrate on our own immediate short term interests and go all out for fracking.
Fortunately two things work strongly against the Trumps of this world. The first thing is that whenever any great technological change begins there is always a strong reaction against it and an attempt to shore up the old way of doing things and to protect the old interests. So far that approach has never proved successful. Technology usually beats politics. So we can expect Trump to be a real thorn in the side of progress but we can also expect progress to be a real thorn in the side of Trump and to win out. The second factor that will help in this victory is the change in attitude in China and India. Both countries have realised that old dirty technology using power sources that they are not over endowed with is a bad bet and that pollution is hurting not just the poor but also the rich and powerful in those countries. They are both furiously investing in alternative sources of energy. There are therefore very strong sources of international leadership determined to press ahead with the Paris accords and to do more than the minimum requirements.
So I am hugely optimistic that we are going to win on the question of energy technology. Whether we win in time to avoid really serious long term damage to the global climate is another matter because events seem to be outstripping scientific predictions. In their determination to ensure that their conclusions could not be questioned by the far right the scientific community has shown a dangerous tendency to make sure its predictions of change are safely conservative. Unfortunately the environment responds to the amounts of gas we pump into it not the amount of words and no one actually knows enough to accurately predict the full extent of the impact of human actions on the environment. I consider myself a sceptic on climate science. I am sceptical that the impact of the 400 parts per million of CO2 that we have already created will really prove to be within the safety limit.
I am also sceptical that climate change is going to prove our biggest environmental challenge. I think that is going to come from population growth, consumption increase and agricultural practices. The single most alarming thing I learned this year was that two thirds of all the wildlife on this planet has disappeared in my lifetime. I am 65. As legacies go that is not one that I am remotely proud of. Deep shame seems more appropriate.
This disappearance of wildlife is not some remote issue associated with rain forests and jungles in the tropics. It has happened in the UK. As a child it was standard practice to need to clean your car windscreen after every journey because of the number of dead insects. That no longer happens because there aren't enough insects out there for the cars to hit. Pesticides, intensive farming and removal of hedgerows have devastated insect populations. It would be nice to think that technology was moving forward and helping us to solve this problem. Unfortunately exactly the opposite is happening. We are using technology to try and stave off the immediate problems and to make them worse in the long term.
One example. Faced with the problems of spraying intensively grown crops with pesticides scientists invented a new "better" "more targeted" way of getting the insecticide onto plants. They put the insecticide inside the seed so that it penetrated the whole plant and it was no longer necessary to spray the countryside. Good stuff. What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately the pesticide companies didn't do enough research into the down side and once it started to emerge they covered up the evidence because it would cost them money to act on it. It is now increasingly clear exactly what a disaster Neonicitinoids have been. They damage bees. They wash off the plants and damage soil micro-organisms. They wash into hedgerows and persist longer than old style pesticides. They are very widely used and make a lot of money for the manufacturers but no one has the least idea of what impact they are having on the soil micro-organisms that we all depend on for our survival.
Objective neutral science research has clearly shown neonicitinoids to be a serious problem. But they are still in wide use because the evidence is being systematically muddied by pesticide companies and by intensive farmers. They are rightly saying that it is very hard to grow commercial crops without the use of any pesticides. They are rightly saying that many of the alternative pesticides are every bit as damaging and are proving increasingly ineffective. They are rightly saying that it is hard to see how we can feed the world on high protein diets without intensive agriculture. But they are quite wrong in thinking that they have found any part of the solution in neonicitinoids. Instead of easing the long term problems this latest generation of pesticides have simply killed off yet more insects that would naturally eat pests. Like wasps. They've also reduced bird populations. Making us even more dependent on insecticides that the pests are becoming resistant to.
The National Trust has reported that on their land they have discovered a serious decline in insect over the course of 2016. They put the problem down to difficult weather. In my view it hasn't actually been a difficult weather year for wildlife. I think the problem is more likely to be yet more evidence of intensive farming having an impact on insect life across very wide areas. Insects move onto National Trust land from intensively farmed properties alongside them. The decline in insects across the country must have an impact on even the most well managed and protected land. We are losing our last reserves of insect life and the places where we might hope to build a recovery from.
So for me the message of the year for environmentalists is that we might need to switch some of our campaigning energy. Fossil fuels are bad but I think the year has given us ample evidence that they will soon be on the way out. Intensive farming of agricultural land is not on its way out. It is getting more prevalent and the latest technology is every bit as harmful as the out-dated kind. The major battle of the next decades may well prove to be not climate change but habitat destruction. And that could prove considerably harder to fix.