Tuesday, 22 October 2013

I can't believe we're on the eve of destruction

Picking up on a couple of pieces of editorial in the Guardian recently, both by Adam Corner, gives me the opportunity to cover two matters which I think are important. The first concerns changing our World for the better here, "Morality is missing from the debate about sustainable behaviour" and the second, "Will the IPCC start a new conversation about climate change?", here .

Reading the comments to the latter piece it was interesting to note that many of the responses were about responsibility, crisis, protection, danger; familiar themes in climate change dialogue, and the common subject for accusations of alarmism. Here is my contribution to the comments thread:

Fear need not be the overriding 'necessary' response to climate change. To an extent it plays into the hands of those unwilling to face the reality of change; it's just too easy for them to cry 'alarmism' or simply go into denial.
The IPCC was formed to help all governments understand and address the risks which were first identified twenty years ago. What have governments managed to achieve in this time? Some are trying, most are failing.

The fact that our world is changing almost faster than we can comprehend should be recognised as a simple reality. But it is also an opportunity. We can see from countless bits of evidence that we have placed ourselves in jeopardy from the historic indifference not just to the climate but also the environment and ecology of the planet. We know the relationship between our past choices and present predicament.

So now, being able to see what has been and see what is likely to be, without decisive action, we have an opportunity. Our generation can (should?) shape the future that we choose; we can let the slide into the mire continue, or we can choose to envision a better way of living within our planet and get off our arses and do something about it.

Don't be afraid. Be determined.

The first Guardian piece is really about the reasons we have for making a change in our personal lives. Corner proposes that most lasting behavioural change comes from internalisation and decision based on ethical foundations. He also points to the ineffectiveness of purely 'money-as-value'- driven arguments for action. These are the ones which assume that we are stuck in the 'sixties presumption that all the Public cares about really is the 'pound in their pocket'.

It was interesting to note the creation in September of a new think tank,  The New Climate Economy. Read the 'about' section to get a sense of the undoubtedly valuable mission the organisation has. But the organisation suffers from the same fundamental problem shared with much of the Political debate on climate change - it presumes that the ultimate motivation for any future action must be self-interested, and (for politicians and corporations) that variations of cost-benefit and risk assessment analysis are the way forward, since their content is ostensibly measurable.

And so I think that the New Climate Economy is missing something - in sticking to the presumption of the pre-eminence of Economy over other elements of the sustainability circle, it will no doubt do much to counter the pseudo-Lomborgian 'Climate change mitigation is a waste of money' argument. But it won't stimulate sustained behavioural change without a heart. As Corner suggests, that heart needs to be fundamentally ethical, based on values other than economic ones. Then, the language, the communication and the call to action will have a more powerful response.

We should recognise that, in important ways, the way that modern human society works has resulted in disproportionate power being placed in the hands of the bean-counters and their lawyers. And whilst their role and contribution to development, change management and future-building is both important and valuable, I would leave you with the questions: Are these the (kind of) people who we want to shape our future World? If they are already just too powerful to replace, what can we do to restructure both climate and sustainability thinking in such a way that their role is less about the why and more about the how?

Because the why matters.