AN all but retired professor in cancer research, Herbie Newell’s interest in the wellbeing of humankind remains undimmed.

His primary focus today though is the environmental health of the planet, and the legacy left to our children.

This passionate member of the newly-formed Hexham Climate Action group said: “My personal philosophy is that we didn’t inherit this planet from our parents, we borrowed it from our children and it’s incumbent upon us to protect it, so they can enjoy it as we have.

“But the climate change crisis is threatening the prospects of future generations and the rate of change is such that the need for action now is very clear.”

The key fact everyone had to understand was the world was getting warmer – 20 of the past 22 years had been the hottest since records began a century or so ago.

In answer to the question whether it isn’t just part of the eternal hot/cold cycles of the planet, Prof Newell admitted there was no decisive answer. “But records do cover the impact of the industrial revolution and what we do know through atmospheric and ice-core measurements, which reveal data from much further back than 100 years, is that the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased dramatically and, most worryingly, is continuing to increase exponentially.

“The CO2 has come from fossil fuel combustion – coal, gas and oil – and as a greenhouse gas, it acts as a blanket around the earth.

“If you let the level of CO2 and resultant temperature rises continue to increase at the rate we have already seen, by the end of this century global temperatures will have risen by three to six degrees overall.”

People might say that was simply the difference between seasons, but no, he was talking about a significant rise in the average temperature of the globe, and therein lay the path to cataclysmic natural events.

“They include heatwaves, flash floods and the wildfires that devastated California last year,” he said. “Those fires alone cost the US economy $24bn, besides the human cost.

“And then there’s the record temperatures we’ve been seeing in Europe this month. Tragically, when temperatures rise to heatwave level, if you are old, sick or frail, the chance of dying from heatstroke rises.”

The effect on wildlife and the ecosystem was already horribly apparent. A third of the world’s coral has been lost to warmer oceans and nearly 10 per cent of all species are at risk of extinction because of climate change.

He said: “That runs the very real risk, because of the interwoven nature of the ecosystem, of causing the collapse of agriculture – we might not be able to feed ourselves.

“And think of the hotter, developing countries near the Equator. If you think we’ve got a problem with migration now, wait until there is mass migration from places where people can’t grow food. They are going to walk to try to find it.”

With the melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps, sea levels have risen globally by 20cms. By the end of this century that figure could be one metre.

“600m people on this planet live less than 10 metres above sea level,” he said, “and some major cities, such as Mumbai, where 20m live, and Guandong (in China) were 112m live, and southern Florida, where 7.5m people live, are at less than one metre above sea level.”

It was estimated that on average 13 tonnes of carbon dioxide was produced to enable each person in the UK to carry out their life, he said. That was equivalent to the weight of 10 small cars. “A quarter of that is to do with food and drink, so what can we do about that?

“Well, we can eat less meat that is produced intensively. Factory-farmed meet has a very high carbon footprint. If we avoid the food that has been sent from overseas by plane, that helps.

“And if we eat all the food we buy, that will help too, because at the moment a ridiculous amount of food is just thrown away at the end of the day.”

Another quarter of those CO2 tonnes was generated by travel. People needed to walk, cycle and take public transport more, and only fly when essential.

“The last bit we have influence over as individuals is our household heating and energy use,” he said. “Here, you can choose to buy electricity from a supplier that specialises in buying their electricity from renewable, low-carbon sources such as wind and solar farms.”

Consumers could also install solar panels and/or a biomass boiler, ensure their homes were well-insulated and, simply, turn their thermostats down.

Prof. Newell said: “The other aspects of reducing our carbon footprint largely require the Government to act, so what we all need to do, finally, is lobby our Government and, through it, lobby the international community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“In April, the Government’s committee on climate change produced an excellent report that identifies just how our country can move towards a zero carbon footprint option.

“The thing we all have to do now is lobby our MPs and ministers to implement the recommendations.”