Cavers and Climate change




This talk may be controversial - you may find it somewhat depressing. We'll get to that.

I'm going to come at this backwards:

First we'll just look at the footprints of caving. I'll explain why it matters in a few mins, so just bear with me for now.

Carbon Footprinting is measuring emissions from activities.

Done in CO2e.

Lets do some sums

Caving itself is pretty-much zero-carbon


  • Equipment
  • Travel


  • Rope (nylon)
  • Metalwork (hangers, jammers, crabs) (aluminium)
  • Harness, slings (nylon)
  • Helmets (ABS)
  • Fleece (acrylic)
  • Cordura oversuit (nylon)
  • PVC oversuit, tacklesacks (PVC)
  • Kneepads, Wetsuits (neoprene)
  • Light, battery (electronics/plastic/aluminium)

Life Cycle

Good data from Edelrid: Rope is 0.05Kg/m

Everything else is very approximate

Petzl do have numbers but unpublished

Used general nylon, aluminium, steel, PVC, neoprene numbers with some manufacturing fudge factors.


Much better in France (150gCO2e/kWh)
than Malaysia (750gCO2/kWh) (Factor of 5)

Gas process heat (180gCO2e/kWh) much better than electrical (500-950) (except in France, Costa Rica and Uruguay)

  • Aluminium: 12.9KgCO2e/Kg
  • Nylon cloth: 1KgCO2e/Kg
  • PVC: 3.5KgCO2e/Kg
  • Neoprene: 4KgCO2e/Kg
  • Electronics: 50KgCO2e/Kg

Caving Kit

  • Basic set: 61Kg
  • Full set with 100m of rope: 87Kg

Variable lifetimes

Ballpark-tastic: use Wook-based numbers.

GearReplacement time
Stop Bobbin3


Annual embedded CO2e

  • Basic set: 10Kg/yr
  • Full set with 100m of rope: 13Kg/yr


Remember those numbers.


Individual Travel, one way

  • Leeds -> Yorskhire Car          10Kg
  • London -> Yorskhire Car        48Kg
  • Cambridge -> Ardeche Car  121Kg
  • Cambridge -> Austria Car    138Kg
  • Cambridge -> Mulu Plane    915Kg

Ardeche      Austria

Trains, coaches and 3-people-per car is good.
Planes aren't.

Caver types

  • Caving monthly locally:
      12 trips, 10 miles.
  • Local caver digging/caving weekly:
      48 trips, 10 miles.
  • Caving monthly from Cambridge:
      12 trips, 200 miles.
  • European Expedition:
      1 trip, 900 miles.
  • Asian Expedition:
      1 trip, 7328 miles.
  • Equipment: 13Kg
  • Travel: 50-2000Kg

Gear footprint is small.
It's all about transport: cave nearby for reduced emissions.


  • Average UK footprint: 6.5T
  • Imported stuff: 3T
  • Car Commuting 20 miles to work: 2T
  • Heating average house (gas): 3T
  • Share of govt,defence, schools: 2.5T
  • Food: 0.4-1.5T

Why does this matter?

1-slide science

CO2 was 278ppm 200 years ago. Now 404ppm and rising.
Takes 1000-odd years to get it out of the atmosphere.

Other GHGs matter too, (but this talk too short...)

Climate change problem has been understood for 25 years - nothing major has changed since 1990.

It is a cumulative problem


What are total emissions and what atmospheric CO2 level do we end up at?

What we say

Copenhagen Declaration
(and Camp David, Cancun, Doha, Warsaw, etc)

Committed to 'hold increase in global temp below 2C, and take action to meet this objective consistent with science, and on basis of equity'

Carbon Budget

For under 2C, from IPCC:

Gigatonnes CO2e100013001500


  • That's from 2011. We used 160Gt since then already.
  • Land use changes 2015-2100 are another 100Gt.
  • Cement 2015-2100 is another 150Gt.

Carbon Budget Remaining

Gigatonnes CO2e100013001500
Available now6009001100
= Years162328

If poorer countries get some budget for development
(assume peak in 2025)


2°C mitigation requires (for Annex 1/OECD nations):
10% reduction in emissions year on year, i.e.

  • ~40% reduction by ~2018 (c.f. 1990)
  • ~70% ~2024
  • ~90% ~2030

i.e Nothing like the 80% by 2050 of the UK Climate Change Act

And non-marginal reductions considered 'impossible'.

4C average is 5-6C over land, 8-10C in Arctic.

OK, so 2C is too hard
What about 4C?

There is a widespread view that 4°C is:

  • incompatible with an organised global community
  • beyond ‘adaptation’
  • devastating to eco-systems
  • Effects are built-in now. Antarctic destabilisation already done.

  • highly unlikely to be stable (‘tipping points')
  • ... consequently ...
    4°C should be avoided at ‘all’ costs

50% of emissions come from <10% of the people.

That's us

  • Academics
  • Anyone who gets on a plane once/yr
  • Anyone paid £30K or more
  • Politicians

Mitigation is a consumption issue, not a population issue.

Why don't you hear this?

Nobody wants to hear this.

'growth' is sacred.

BECCS is assumed.

For policy makers the message is simple but uncomfortable

  • Should avoid 4°C at all costs
  • Annex 1 nations need ~70% decarbonisation over next decade or so
  • Only small % of global population need radical mitigation
  • Low carbon energy supply is too little too late in the West
  • Principal response is to reduce energy demand now
  • Carbon trading & prices are not sufficient for non-marginal (large) reductions

Is it hopeless?

No, not yet, but it's not good.

Action from the rich (you) is necessary, and we don't like that.

Change is possible

    Footprint yourself

    Change your travel

    Change your diet

    Enerphit your house: 80% heating reduction

    PV, Divest


    Vote for people that take this seriously

    Campaign, march, write, donate

    Talk to friends and family

    Do it right now, not next year.


This presentation borrows heavily from Kevin Anderson's excellent work.

Kevin Anderson - 'Evolution or Revolution' Kevin Anderson - 'The Ostritch or the Phoenix'