So the cat’s out of the bag. The IPCC has made its findings known and there’s no doubt about it. What news! Except for the fact that it’s not news. Not at all. Not since Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring”, not since the club of Rome wrote “Limits to Growth”, since James Lovelock wrote his “Gaia” series of books. We had electric cars, but the oil lobby killed them off, we have Passiv housing but housing stock is usually not thought of as important enough to actually put any thought into anything other than cheap boxes that house the poor/less well-off which will soon be everyone except the super-rich, who in turn will only last so long after all the poor die of climate related incidents? But enough of the doom and gloom; that’s not what I want to focus on.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at networking event where people representing the “City of London” were discussing the prospect of welcoming an additional 100,000 people a day into the city to work. I found the whole thing rather amusing. Sitting there in a room with mostly 40/50 year old men and women discussing the future of London (and yes there was also a serious lack of cultural diversity) it really struck me that the conversations we have about adaptation whether that’s adapting to climate change or to new technology or new conditions in the work place, are usually held by certain people. And these people, no matter how much they may empathize and how much they may have holidayed in Kenya or how they spent their gap yar”” – they still have a very narrow view of the world and of the way that the world is changing. The change they see is an incremental one, a step change that allows the incumbents to set the pace and then benefit from their lofty positions to maintain the status quo.
Today I read in the FT that Vodafone was bringing the M-Pesa system of money transfers to Europe. I truly believe that this is the first of many technology transfers that goes from developing world to the developed world. For me, this is just one of the ways that innovation (no matter what direction) can help create better lives. For that is what this climate change issue is all about. We are screwed – well maybe not us so much – but our children for certain will see things that we have only seen in hyper stylized movies such as 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. We joke now but being chased down the street by lava is no laughing matter. The lives that we will have do not have to be any worse than the lives we lead now. And wanting a better life for all is not some kind of communist egalitarian ideal, it’s part of being a decent person, and it’s also proven to maintain a more stable country.
The reaction when having to face something so vast, so serious and so uncontrollable is to bury your head in the sand. Too many figures, too many sides to listen to and many seeds of doubt to deal with. Then there is the thought of what individuals will have to give up. And yes, there are sacrifices to be made – but actually, they are not really sacrifices, I prefer to see them as life enhancers (again, language is important here). Get rid of that car – you know you don’t need it. An SUV in Chelsea when the most mud you ever see is in Hyde Park? Grow some veg at home, plants are good for you, soothing, calming and you might even end up spending time with your children, teaching them or in some cases them teaching you a thing or two about life. Work less – yes, really. What the hell are you doing spending 50 hours a week in your office? Take a break – switch off your phone after work, don’t answer work emails on the weekend – the Germans seem to have got that right again. How does this help? It helps you to take stock of your life, to learn what’s important. It helps you to realize how our parks (natural water and carbon sinks) are being removed to make way for more buildings that only serve the few. We can see that life is more than just turning up for that pay check and we can do something about it. Be more active in our communities, get to know our neighbours once more through neighbourhood sharing schemes – when was the last time you used that drill you bought for ridiculous amounts at B&Q?
The IPCC report is pretty damning; extremely sober reading. But it’s not the end of the world. At times like this I like to quote Emmanuel Kant and his first lines from his text, What is Enlightenment?
Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.
You don’t have to believe in Climate Change to know that something is up with the world in general. Yet there is no need to be negative about it. Speaking to Anthony Hobley, the CEO of the Carbon Tracker Initiative and a special adviser on Sustainability and Climate Finance at Norton Rose Fulbright, at the event I mentioned earlier on, we both agreed that there are incredibly exciting times. Oil and gas companies can’t take all those hydrocarbons out of the ground which leaves room for innovation in the way we produce, use and store energy. It opens up conversations about the types of societies we want that work for everyone.
On Monday the 7th of April, I take part in a symposium that delves into these possibilities. It’s an exciting panel, filled with a mixture of people from all sorts of disciplines, not usually associated with government policy creation. We will seek to address the issue of communicating progress, positivity and opportunity; to discover how to excite and inspire individuals and communities alike. It’s going to be tough but demystifying this message will go a long way towards helping to create action.