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Changing climate

As geologist and science writer Nina Morgan discovers, attitudes about climate change are changing

kljhAs the world celebrates the signing of the historic agreement in Paris in December 2015, which sets out a global action plan to limit global warming to well below 2°C, it is sobering to recall that as recently as the 1980s, the UK Department of Energy (DoE) was extolling the advantages a 2°C rise in temperature would have for Britain, and proposing an innovative way to achieve it.

In full-page advertorials published in 1986 in both Times and Guardian, the DoE announced that following a review of national energy policy, the Government planned to implement far-reaching strategic energy measures with the aim of effecting a shift in the Earth's axis.  This was to be achieved by the carefully timed activation of three five-hundred-megaton electromagnets orbiting the Earth at a velocity of two Earth orbits per hour. The  electromagnetic charges generated would act to tilt the Earth's magnetic axis. 

Heading south

The result, government scientists predicted, would be to shift Britain to a new geographical location just 10 degrees north of the equator.  As a result, British summers, on average, would be 10°C warmer, while winter temperatures would be maintained at a balmy 20°C. This change in the British climate, DoE estimated, would generate energy savings estimated at £2bn per year.  Admittedly, the effects of an axis shift might not be so favourable in regions such as Southern Africa, which would become the new South Pole, or in Japan and parts of China, which would then form the new North Pole.  But a DoE spokesperson argued: " Britain is long overdue some good weather and energy savings.  And anyway why shouldn't someone else suffer for a change?"

In the end – some would say disappointingly – the UK government opted to support more conventional technologies, such as draught-proofing, pipe lagging and insulation, in a bid to make  the British indoor climate feel more Mediterranean. As a result, the axis-shifting scheme was never implemented. 

Cost cutting

The reason for this change of heart, it is claimed, was partly cost. Cost, of the placing the advert, that is. The bill for publishing the advertorial outlining the scheme reportedly ran to £18,000  – an amount Stan Orme MP, then shadow energy secretary, characterised as 'an outrageous expenditure of public money'.  But perhaps he missed the point.  The warming effect of the smiles generated by an article about energy policy ending with the words 'April Fuel', should never be underestimated!


Sources for this vignette include: and  

Nina Morgan is a geologist and science writer based near Oxford. Her latest book, The Geology of Oxford Gravestones, is available via