Category Archives: Climate Change

Letter from the Future

Since the doom-laden post about the recent Bill McKibben piece in Rolling Stone, it was good to come across a project from Sustainable Wales (thanks Chris).  It’s called Letters from the Future whereby they’ve got writers to ‘send back’ letters from parents to children based on their projections of what life will be like then.

Things will have changed (obv.) but certainly more positive than how McKibben would have us see it.  (That’s not to say that McKibben hasn’t go it more right though of course).

Anyway, it’s good that artists are engaging in this stuff.  Here’s a sample:

 

2030.  Letter to a son.

By Robert Minhinnick 

You said I was mad but I wanted to show you. So I collected rainwater, then found an oak tree. Not long ago I couldn’t have told you one thing about an oak. But around here oaks used to cover everything. That’s why you see the word deri so often. See, I’m learning from the landscape. And from you.

Then I found the oak tree’s galls, which are blisters on the leaves. I scraped them off and crushed them. Next I added some copper sulphate crystals that were hanging about in the garage – grandad used them to get a better blue from the hydrangeas. Last, I bought some gum arabic from that new art shop where Pound World was. Mixed it up. And I’m writing this down in my own ink.

Okay, I could have sent an attachment zinging round the planet. But I want to show you maybe we can’t rely on electricity forever. You know the ration hours: 7am till 11am, 6pm till 9pm.

But the young adapt quickly. When the government abandoned the Severn Barrage last year, it made us think. All that wasted effort and money, with a gap of only five miles from where they’d started over at Brean Down, and down in Lavernock, our side. But it wouldn’t return the investment. So now there are two enormous concrete piers in the Severn. Everybody calls it a catastrophe. But we can learn from it. The graffiti’ s fantastic they say.

One of my blogging butties calls these days the dangerous here and now. I love that phrase. Because, dangerous or not, this now is the best time of my life.

Yes, it’s different from the past. People say it’s ‘the Emergency’. But somehow it’s more real. I’ve learned to look around and ask what’s here – the land, the weather – and be involved in it all. I think about history and how it made us. Language, even. After all this time Welsh makes sense. Now I know what melin and pandy mean, and why those places are called what they’re called. Melin and pandy and ton and gwaith and nant. How they explain the land and what we do with it. As if words themselves were the landscape. Words like deri.

But you know I’m not one of the new Luddites. Moaning on in sackcloth they’ve woven themselves. Or the smug greenies, saying I-told-you-so. Those tipi villages on the banks of the Taff and the Rhymni? You won’t catch me there. Look, I’m not knocking it because in a way the Jeremiahs were right. But I still have faith in The Web. There’s wisdom there for all to find. Yes, the Web will stop that dog-eat-dog attitude we had before the banking crash. And that attitude is still a threat.

The Web shows we cannot return to the old life before the Emergency. There’ll never be business as usual again. Oil was finite and we wasted it. Then all the alternatives, like ethanol, caused problems.

But there’s a billion bloggers out there with ingenious schemes. And an infinity of practical tips. Where did this ink come from? The Web of course. It’s adapted from a medieval recipe.

Wind? The turbines on Mynydd Maendy are vital now. But the thousands of wind farms will never happen. A windmill is beautiful, turbines big as the Eiffel Tower are scary. As to solar, it’s coming. Ha ha. The government says hang on, it’s almost here. Latest plan is painting solar cells on to houses. I’m not holding my breath. But you’ll see it.

True, I never thought we’d run out of… things. There I was, playing Assassin’s Creed on the Play Station, with a takeaway chicken tikka in a polystyrene tray on the desk, a 35p energy drink in an aluminium can, which I’d crumple and chuck, to wash it down. Your father the eco-criminal.

As to politicians, they were always too late. Politics tried to catch up but events just raced away. Suddenly we were telling schools to teach kids to grow food. And how to cook that food. Because the parents, including me, were clueless. We were brought up on TV dinners, so children like you were in charge.

All down to energy, see. And resources. They realised that energy was too important to waste building another rugby stadium.  The government was screaming about making it a producer society, not a consumer society. Because we’d consumed too much. We’d become locusts. So now we had to learn to produce. And I don’t mean plasma screens and Domino’s pizzas, I mean vegetables and DIY manuals and clean water and, yes, art.

The government came up with was a slogan. They’re good at slogans. Nobody spoke about your carbon footprint any more. It was too late for that. But your ‘intellectual footprint’ was the official phrase now. Make yours as big as possible.

After the National Curriculum was abandoned schools became more independent. And they’re smaller, like the one in our street. Cooking, IT, practical science and DIY before 11.a.m when the power’s on. Then gardening, language, maths and the arts – poetry, painting, music – when it’s off.  Brilliant.

Thinking back, I liked school. But when I left I couldn’t boil an egg, grow spuds, change a plug, a tyre or a ball cock. Result? Grief all my life. Now the children run in, happy to learn. And all these schools have their own windmills.

Libraries too. There’s queues for the books and CDs. I used to think libraries were for old people. That libraries weren’t cool.  Well nobody says cool anymore.  We use love instead. And you know what I love? Reading those haiku things in kitchen candlelight. Just little poems, brilliant things, flickering on the page as the candle flame twists and our shadows conspire. I know some off by heart. Here’s one by this character, Issa. Around the time the ironworks were coming to Dowlais, Issa was wandering around Japan, writing poems. Just like some are doing here.

A bath when you’re born

and a bath when you die.

How stupid.

Why has it taken me fifty years to discover that? How stupid. Then there’s that pub, the Old House, in Llangynwyd. They say the building dates from 1150. Apparently they’ve started these triban writing competitions there again. Harder than haiku. It was the centre for local writers, centuries back, and it’s going great. Too far for us to get to, but good to know about. Cracking website, but they say you can’t beat it live.

I remember 2000, the fuel crisis. A warning we ignored. But suddenly oil became too precious to waste making crisp packets. Biofuel? Another pipe dream. All it meant was using a field to grow a crop to turn into a liquid to put into a petroltank so we could drive to see the Dan yr Ogof dinosaurs. Remember them? Now petrol and ethanol are rationed, and boy, are they expensive.

‘Stay home’ is our new mantra. To grow food. To produce, not consume.  Oh yes, consuming is over. We’re producers now. Got to be. And we look after our water. Here, of course, we’ve ample. But it takes energy to pump and heat it. These water wheels they’re building are fine with me, and Dwr Cymru has used sonar to track the tributaries of the Great Spring of Glamorgan.

No, I’d never heard of it before. But six million gallons of fresh water were coming out at Ewenni every day, the cleanest water you’ll ever taste. From a glacier that melted ten thousand years ago in the Beacons.

What’s also great are the seaweed farms down in Ogmore. They were growing it for biofuel, but people said, no, we’ll eat it. The first man doing it is a hero there. He had a driftwood bonfire going and boiled a ton of the stuff. And gave it away, like a soup kitchen. But this was laverbread and the idea’s taken off.

As I keep saying, any food shortages will be sorted out by the new Genetic Engineering Institute. It’s being built near Chepstow, where the army camp was. No-one can get near, it’s all hush hush.

Yes, there are thousands of great schemes. That’s why they’re calling this period the People’s Renaissance. Creativity is a duty now. It could keep us alive. You won’t remember, but we were going to build the new Hollywood on the opencast at Llanharri. True! Well someone’s planting a sweet chestnut forest there now. Government wants us to eat nuts and bake with nut flour. Why not when it’s so much warmer?

Strange but you see more smoke than before. There’s coal being burned. Illegal yes, but it’s all around us. Gangs go into shafts and opencast craters because of black market prices. Okay, I’ve done it myself. There’s that ton in the back garden, because we can’t trust the gas coming through. Yes, for some the black economy is the only economy. You can get mutton and venison, petrol or bio. But it costs.

Around here we were almost ready for the Emergency. After 200 years, we still had roots in the co-operative movement. So we’re good at working together. And all those time-banking schemes, like Creation in Blaengarw, have really expanded. Credit unions are flourishing, while the local currencies are fine by me. Just don’t end up being paid in Treorci dollars when you live in Troedyrhiw.

Yes, we were ready. And it’s better now. I actually talk to neighbours, and we make sure the oldsters are fine. Funny, I used to think Neighbourhood Watch was consumer paranoia. Middle class people scared of losing their X Boxes. But it’s just about mucking in. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

Hey, real writing’s hard work. I’ll stop now because the neighbours are coming round. Plus your uncle in his latest electric car. Flash git, but he’s bringing his luxury nettle soup. Because Saturday night is story night.  Everybody cooks and we share the booze. Yes, that gooseberry wine. From the south side of the allotment. Like a good Sauvignon Blanc. And we’ll sit in the candlelight, telling our stories. You see, that’s what I’ve learned. That everybody has a story. You have so many already, in so few years. Yet before all this, I never had the chance to tell mine.

Yes, I love story telling. It’s why we’re on the planet. To tell stories about how it was in the past, or what we’re doing in this dangerous here and now. First time when they asked me to join in, I was scared. Didn’t have a clue. But now when I’ve finished telling a tale, and people laugh or slap me on the back, or are quiet for a moment, it seems the most important thing I’ll ever do. Hey, maybe I’ll read this. Maybe I will.

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The simple choice that will determine our future

During the Masters I’ve seen some scary charts and statistics about the speed at which we’re either pumping C02 into the atmosphere or destroying rainforest or the like.  I don’t put these on this blog as they’re just too depressing.

However, I got sent this recently published article from Rolling Stone magazine.  Written by Bill McKibben, it is the most compelling, powerful and scary piece I’ve seen on our predicament.  The reason I’m posting it is because I think it can represent an important moment in whether we, as humans, decide whether we want to act and stop Climate Change.

So, why is it so compelling, powerful and scary?  Because McKibben, to make the things really simple for everyone, has boiled the whole issue down to three numbers.  That’s all you need to know.  Three numbers.

Those numbers are:

2 degrees Celsius:  Scientists agree that this is the upper limit that its safe for us to warm the planet before the wheels start to fall off.  Read that as massive, unpredictable environmental events that will cripple global food supplies, put countries under water, cause water and food wars.  All that stuff and more.  Not good.

565 Gigatons:  This is the amount of carbon dioxide (give or take) that humans can pour into the atmosphere before we reach that 2 degree celsius figure. On current course, we’ll get there mid-century i.e. in about 40 years.

2,795 Gigatons:  This is the amount of carbon contained within the proven oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies and fossil-fuel countries (e.g. Saudi or Kuwait).  Yes, 2,795 is roughly five times bigger than 565.   So, the answer is simple, right?  Stop the energy companies and countries from getting it out of the ground and burning it.  However, whilst the reserves are still in the soil, it’s already economically above ground on balance sheets and in government spending plans.  To prevent those companies and countries from getting the reserves out of the ground is to effectively cripple them.  And those companies and countries are amongst the most powerful in the world.  As McKibben puts it:

“If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.”

So, if the fossil-fuel companies and countries keep their reserves in their pants we might all survive.  If they don’t, then we don’t.  It’s that simple.

So here’s the deal.  We, the people, have to act to keep the carbon in the ground.  We have to do it because governments have proven that can’t act collectively (see Copenhagen and Rio+20) and big business want to grow.  So, we have to lobby those companies and countries and/or dramatically lower our own footprints and come to terms considerable changes in lifestyle that will entail.  Life will be different and in some ways harder.  If we fail to make that choice and act then life will become much, much more difficult than if we had acted.

So, the choice is clear.  And if we don’t act, now that we know the risks, then frankly, we kinda deserve what we get.  In about 40 years.  Just sayin’ how it is.  Is this depressing?  Actually, no.  This is about taking control, having agency and having some say in what happens in the future, rather than having that future thrust upon us.  It’s all about how you frame it.

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The Size of the Challenge? Challenging.

Met up with a few people over the festive period who I haven’t seen for a while and in-between the turkey and mince pies have been explaining what I’m up to and what my thoughts are.  I find it a bit of a struggle sometimes to explain the nature of the change that I’m going through, but it does start to make a bit more sense when I frame it in the context of the Size of the Challenge.  What follows might not make for easy reading, but having a point of view on the what the task is at least enables one to identify what you need to do about it:

Okay then, I’ve arrived at the use of a metaphor as the best way to describe what’s going on, what needs to happen and how likely we are to make that change.  The metaphor is that the change that needs to happen for us all to live sustainably on the planet is equivalent to the change that happened when we moved from fully believing in God and religion as the answer to all questions to believing that science holds the answers.

What do I mean by that?  I’m not a big history reader, but my understanding is that in the past (pre-Enlightenment) the prevailing belief was that God created in the world in 6 days, the Earth was at the Centre of the Universe and we were special (i.e. not related to animals).  Then along came science and through the likes of Galileo and Darwin, they introduced ‘laws’ and proof and rationality to disprove many of the religious beliefs.  So, now, we not only have a prevailing wind that science can hold the answers (or rather if you can’t ‘prove it’ it doesn’t exist), but that the economic system is the way that world works, man can control nature and consumerism and individualism is king.  These beliefs, I would contend, are as strongly held as those religious beliefs that existed before science came along and the systems that hold those beliefs are as strong as the church was (and in some places still is – i.e. for half of the USA).

So, if we are to move to a more sustainable future, then why is the change as big as the change from ‘religion’ to ‘science’?  Because, I think just like back then, it requires an entire re-calibration of the way you think that the way the world works, or more importantly how you relate to the world.  So, rather than being disconnected from nature and seeing nature as ‘other’ we, as a species, have to understand that we are interconnected to it, want to live in harmony with it, indeed, that we are interconnected to everything else.  Don’t we already do that?  Doesn’t the internet let us do that?  No.  If we believed that then we would run the global economy with no environmental impact.  We’d understand that there are things that are more important that our individual needs.  We’d be thinking about what our actions mean for people living generations ahead of us and acting in their best interests, not just ours today.

If this is right (or in the ballpark) then the question then becomes ‘Can we change to think and act in a way that will allow us to live sustainably on the planet?’  Reframe that question as ‘Has mankind ever given up the prevailing system and the values it promotes without great suffering?’  I’m thinking slavery, Suffragettes, American Civil War, Apartheid, Arab Spring.  But, there might be some examples where that hasn’t happened.  Further, if you think about the amount of tension in the system before the system changed (read that as a lot of people dying and getting beaten up who wanted the change to happen) then we’re a long, long way off that.  A few thousand people involved in the Occupy Movement is hardly Tahrir Square or Sharpeville.

So, in my mind it’s a race.  On the positive, we as a species evolve fast enough to care about nature and each other.  There is a sort of ‘rising global consciousness’ and somehow we understand, intuitively, that we’re all interconnected.  Big business and governments change accordingly.  On the more dramatic, there is a grass roots, global movement that puts an insurmountable of pressure on those that currently run the system and again Big Business and governments change accordingly.  The race is that either (or both) of those things need to happen before we heat up the planet beyond acceptable levels (and the bio-diversity loss point).  If that doesn’t happen then we, as a species, are in deep shit.

The last question then becomes ‘Are you an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist?’

How to get more people to act sustainably? Don’t talk about sustainability.

Here’s a very good, clear articulation of how to get more people act in a more sustainable way.

Caroline Fiennes of GlobalCool breaks people into three groups (called Value Modes) based on their broad motivations:

First group. People who care about things that are quite proximate to them.   Their primary concern is the safety and security of myself, family and nation.  Like rules and big into community.

Second group.  Primarily driven by the esteem and respect of others and therefore need to demonstrate their success.  So, big into fashion and social networks.

Third group.  Primarily interested in their intellectual and ethical imprint.  Interested in ideas and others even if they’ve never met them or are never likely to meet them.

So, who does the existing sustainability narrative talk to?  The third group and the third group only, of course.  It’s effectively missing out two-thirds of the population.  Talking about glaciers melting and people on the other side of the world just doesn’t connect those in the other two groups based on what they value.  They don’t really listen.  So, what to do?  She goes onto to give a couple of great examples of health advertising – e.g. communicating that you shouldn’t take Crystal Meth because it ruins your teeth is more appealing for people for whom appearance is important (the second group) than talking about how addictive it is.

Her point, which is obvious but very well made, is that you need to talk to people about what they care about in a way that engages with them as a means to do what you want (the obliquity strategy).  The health people don’t care what they need to say in order to get you to not take Crystal Meth, just that you don’t start taking it.  They’re happy not to talk about health in order to get people to be more healthy.  As she puts it – the important thing isn’t why you act in the way they what you, just that you do act.

Taking this to sustainability  an example of an ‘Accidental Environmentalists’ are kids who want to go to school on their micro-scooters because this is more fun than being in a car.  This has lead to an appreciable drop in car journeys in some areas of London.  You would never say to them that what they are doing is ‘green’.  But it is.

Commercial marketers have known this forever – they never talk about their agenda (we want to make more money) they just talk about your agenda – ‘You want to be popular?  Buy our product’.  And in doing so, we make more money.

She gives a bunch more examples and there’s loads more good stuff on their website, but in summary – to get more people to act sustainably, don’t talk about sustainability.  Simple really.

Occupy St Paul’s (sorry, London)

Went and spent a couple of hours down there last week – never been to a protest before.   It’s a really interesting, well-organised space with the tents and the people who stay in them (not always overnight or so it seems!) and then loads of people milling about – be it tourists or workers on a break.  I ended up having a long conversation with a chap who believed the fundamental issue was Fractional Reserve Lending (something I know a little about from the course and from the remarkable film in this earlier post) as well as a Swedish couple, one of whom had done some work with the IMF.  So, there are high-calibre people are hanging out down there.

As someone from a communications background, the main thing I took from the experience was a lack of understanding of what they want.  You get no clear idea of what ‘success would look like’ (to use that phrase).  For example, one banner says ‘Capitalism IS crisis’, another says ‘This is not an anti-capitalism movement’.  Perhaps the most frequent thing you see is ‘We are the 99%’ – referring to the fact that the other 1% have all the money.  I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with that?  Now, maybe it’s too difficult to compress what the movement is into a soundbite and to do so is to deny the complexity of the situation we find ourselves in.  But, I would suggest, if they want to engage more people more fully, some sort of clarity of what they stand for/what they want etc would be of benefit.  By doing this, they might be able to garner more support as more of the population will more easily be able to understand that the issues they are protesting about.

As a footnote to this, I stopped by on a couple of days ago and the main banner has changed to ‘What Would Jesus Do?’  Which is kind of better in that they have understood that the protest has a moral edge to it and that they’re right outside St. Paul’s.  BUT, given all the press about whether they should move on and the Dean resigning over this, the ‘Jesus’ banner could easily be construed in the context of whether Jesus would let them stay and protest, rather than what would Jesus do in relation to the inequality in the banking system and economy which I would understand to be closer to the point they are trying to make.

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How long does it take to go sustainable? (part 2)

In this previous post I came to the conclusion that it takes a minimum of a year for someone to ‘go sustainable’.  This is because this is how long it’s taken me and I would regard myself as highly-motivated to do so – I’m doing the MSc and have LOTS of conversations about it.

It’s a fairly demoralising realisation – as that seems a long time in our short-termist society, but knowing the scale of the task is a great thing to know.

Further evidence for the this One Year Hypothesis come via a great conversation I had with Morag Watson at WWF. She talked about the excellent Natural Change programme that they’ve run in Scotland.  They describe it as follows:

The Natural Change Project was developed by WWF Scotland as a new and innovative response to the challenge of sustainability and to the growing evidence that current environmental campaigns are not resulting in the depth of behaviour change necessary to address this challenge. The project drew together seven diverse individuals from the business, charitable, arts, public, health and education sectors in Scotland. All were selected on the basis of being excellent communicators who were influential in their sector, but not particularly environmentally aware.  The purpose of the project was to encourage this group to think deeply about sustainability, to communicate through their social and professional networks and to share the changes in their thoughts and attitudes more widely through the forum of internet blogging.

They spent a total of 16 days together over the course of a year or so, a year that included a lot of shared conversations and thinking all grounded in trips to the wonderful area of Knoydart.  The group experienced some  some dramatic changes in the values and behaviours of the group.

Relating this to how you can communicate (or ‘engage’) with people, you broadly have 2 polar opposite options ‘Shallow and Many’ (mass advertising) or ‘Deep and Few’ (group therapy, for example).  Natural Change provides me with additional evidence to my own experience that the ‘Deep and Few’ option is the ONLY option that will work in order to make the necessary societal change to get people to change to be more sustainable – a deep, lengthy process in involving small groups of people.  This is because I agree with the Common Cause work in that the consumerist mindset and the extrinsic values associated with it are instilled in our society and within us from the day we’re born.  To get people to ‘go sustainable’ requires that they recognise and value intrinsic values instead of extrinsic.  This is obviously a big deal because it requires a basic rewiring in people’s heads as to what’s important – this sort of change is best done when supported by people undergoing the same transformation.

This all gets me to believe that getting people to turn down their heating or recycle their rubbish will have very little real, lasting effect in encouraging people to become wholly sustainable.  They are just mere actions that have virtually no impact on a person’s values.  An interesting question would be if you could get someone to turn their heating down, recycle more, buy organic, save water, drive less, go vegetarian, not to take foreign holidays etc etc., would they end up having intrinsic values?  Intuitively, I don’t think so – these actions are a multitude of ‘shallow’ and I don’t think all of that would add up to ‘deep’.

So, much more to think on with this, but if I continue down this way of thinking, then at least the challenge is clear – how do you do ‘Deep AND Many’?

China to wage war with West over Climate Change

Naive thinking or bold prediction……

So, I’ve asked myself recently has been ‘Am I old enough to get by with out having to learn Mandarin?’

Hopefully, the answers ‘yes’ because I’m rubbish at languages, but The Economist has recently brought forward its forecast and has now stated that China will overtake the US as the world’s largest economy in 2019.  So, maybe not.

However, maybe this is a good thing as being the world superpower will allow them to save the world.  Literally.

There’s two bits of evidence to suggest that China will save the day. The first is a book called Consumptionomics.

Here’s the radio interview with it’s author.  What’s interesting about it is that it’s written by an Indian Management Consultant based in Hong Kong (rather than someone from LSE or Harvard) and basically he says that China and India cannot mirror the OECD countries in their level of consumption or we’ll run out of planet.  Nothing new there, but he goes on to say that China, with its style of government is in the best place to save the planet and indeed they’re already restricting car ownership.  He also makes some great points that India and China’s idea of what the ‘right path’ is has been determined by the West (i.e. consumption is good) and it’s time for the academics in those countries to step up and create their own sustainable future, rather than have their future dictated to them by the West.

This is all interesting stuff, then Tim passed this my way.  It’s an article in Time magazine about China banning ads that promote the luxury lifestyle because it encourages inequality and China’s number one priority is to build a ‘harmonious society’.

So, what does all of this mean?  Well here’s the prediction.  The USA is the current the world’s superpower but there’s only 307 million of them (4.5% of the global population).  A lot of their foreign policy is about protecting American interests and they’ve been pretty good at that.  Now, China has got a population of 1,331 million (19% of the global population).  So, America doesn’t have to worry about what happens at a global scale because they don’t have to think that big.  But China does.  So, if China pursues a sustainable policy now, what are they likely to see when they get to be number 1?  That they’re doing their bit to save the planet (and themselves) and given current trajectory, the US and Europe aren’t. And will China do?  How about ‘force’ the West to do what they say, for the sake of the planet.  Economic or military force, who knows?

That’s my prediction.

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The Parable of St Matthew Island

The true story of what happens when you introduce 29 reindeer to an isolated island of natural resources (via Boing Boing). 

It’s Climate Change for kids (and adults), comic book style.  What’s not to like?  (Except for that ‘collapse’ bit at the end):

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Quote of the week (and Big Picture shit pt.3)

Last one was from Darwin, this time it’s another Great Man, Churchill:

“The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see”

Look back a bit and you can have an opinion about the rise and fall of civilisations in the future (what we’ve seeing with the West and East).  Look back a bit further and you can have an opinion on the rise and fall of species (what we might see with humans and climate change).

 

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Sustainability. The end, but the means?

I’ve been having a few chats recently about the fact that the sustainability debate, in the UK at least, is confined to a minority.  The sort of person who reads The Guardian, watches Channel 4 and knows that there is social value in being a globally-concerned individual.  That’s all well and good, but whilst they might be the heart and soul of the debate and movement (if it could be called a movement), they’re too small in numbers to make any real difference.  The action has to be in the mainstream.  In terms of media, it has to be with The Sun and ITV1.  The question is, how do you make that happen?  How do you get sustainability to become a mainstream issue?

Government regulation aside, there seem to be two options.  Popularise the existing narrative.  Or change the narrative.  The first option is to make ‘being green’ more popular; more attractive; more socially acceptable.  This is entirely possible, but it hasn’t happened yet – there seems no appetite for it so far, but who’s to say that there will be in future?  However, I don’t see Ant and Dec giving a way an electric car on their new gameshow before sticking up their ‘How To Be Green’ wallchart from the centre pages of The Sun any time soon.  But it might happen.

In thinking about the possibility of being an alternative narrative, it seems important to make a distinction between the means and the end.  At the end of the day, we, as a nation (and a species), need to live in a more sustainable way.  This is the desirable ‘end’.  It’s the ‘means’ to achieve that end that I’m interested in.

To use an analogy – and one that helped get us in this mess in the first place –  is that in the 1950s President Eisenhower’s council of economic advisors stated “The American economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods”.  So, the ‘end’ was an thriving economy based on the production of more ‘stuff’.  How do you make that happen?  There seem to be a number of different ‘means’ that could have been used to achieve this.  It was the 1950’s so you could have created a narrative about it being your duty as an American to buy things in the ideological fight against Communism.  Or you could could create a narrative where people would feel more altruistic by encouraging them to buy bigger and better gifts for friends and relatives.  Or you could create a narrative whereby you can achieve greater personal fulfillment and happiness by buying more things.  It seems that the latter was the primary narrative that was chosen as the ‘means’.  It certainly wasn’t a narrative around ‘please buy more because our economy depends on it’.  So, the means were different to the ends.

So, why, when it comes to the issue of sustainability, should it be any different?

Now, it’s likely that it will be a combination of narratives to help achieve the sustainable end that’s required, but looking beyond the current means = end thinking might move things into the mainstream a little bit quicker.

If you know what those alternative narratives are, you might just help save the world.