I was asked recently, did I think there was time to avoid climate chaos. I couldn’t help myself. I got caught by the urge to reassure: “Oh yes,” I said, “Look how quickly governments have reacted to the pandemic”. I didn’t even address the question, for whom might we avoid chaos? Clearly the impacts are not exactly evenly spread.
The same desire to be positive, almost the Spirit of the Blitz, is evident in the media narrative as the reality of the chaos and yawning emissions gap inch closer. The most bizarre example was Prime Minister Johnson telling a UN leaders’ meeting that a puppet frog (Kermit) was wrong in his declaration: “It isn’t easy being green.” Johnson argued that being green was no trouble at all.
So what would “being green” look like? And is it easy?
A standard approach to thinking about this combines technical solutions, sector by sector, with government policy often to create the incentives to make the changes needed. We just have to push governments to act, or to “grow up” as Johnson strangely put it.
So all our housing needs retrofitting. First with insulation, then it is just a question of governments identifying the right heating systems, heat pumps and/or hydrogen boilers, and designing the right combinations of incentives and programmes to deliver them. “Tick” and onto the next sector. It might even include sending “better” technology to the developing world.
Even in these terms the changes required are huge and costly as well as having delivery timetables that are scary.
But I think the problem with this framing is more fundamental. It turns the problem into a sort of engineering project run centrally by governments, sometimes likened to a moon shot, while other actors are bystanders or merely respond to government policy.
In reality, of course, other actors are not bystanders. A whole lot of powerful ones are constantly striving to increase profits to satisfy big finance with such handy techniques as controlling our digital experience and built-in obsolescence. That is the bad news.
The good news is that there are loads of groups seeking to develop new organisations and structures that are focused on addressing the ecological crisis and driven by public benefit, not profit. They are signposting the way to a new forward which governments could support.
I see this particularly in the food and farming space in which I work and where I seek to shape new innovative institutions. Feeding ourselves is going to be the big challenge as the climate deteriorates.
This must be the source of hope – the energy and creativity of people of good will. We don’t have to wait for government and big business to act – finance is unlikely to let big business change its spots anyway. We can collaborate to find solutions ourselves based on different values.
This is a key reason we are organising, for a second year, our Festival for Change to build capacity amongst young people around the world to become changemakers themselves. So do join us when we launch the day after COP26 ends in November. We aim to help you move from being an observer or protestor, to an actor.
And I hope this issue will provide some useful material to inspire thought and action.
Erik Nordman explains how Elinor Ostrom’s thinking influenced international action on climate change to create the potential for a more positive, inclusive dynamic; Graham Parkes discusses the potential to find common cause with China if we understand more about its cultural history; while Michael Jacobs sets out how COP26 is likely to work or not.
Jeremy Williams reflects on the many levels of injustice in the climate crisis; Sandra White considers the nature of denial and acceptance; and Serban Scrieciu shows how a pluralist approach to economics can underpin collaboration in tackling climate change.
Validmir Spiela explains what green jobs might look like; Guy Dauncey reflects on Mark Carney’s influential approach to addressing the crisis and Frances Coppola looks at the political economy of renewable energy.
Getting more practical, Mark Davis looks at how local government can crowd-source funding so they can take their declarations of a climate emergency seriously and Jennie Bailley tells the story of an English town that is leading the way on the climate challenge.
And it is not all about the climate crisis. Alex Thomas tells the story of a leading Indian economic thinker, and Yashaswi Shetty and Hamza Ahmad describe how women in India’s agricultural sector are pushing back barriers to their recognition and security.
Finally, Brendan Murtagh suggests a different economic path for Northern Ireland as post-Brexit sectarian tensions grow while Jane D’Arista explains how the international financial infrastructure really requires fundamental reform.
In these difficult times, I wish you success in finding purpose and avoiding despair, but don’t rely on reassuring banalities. And do enjoy Verity’s latest travails!