The climate change negotiations in Warsaw have, predictably enough, ended in failure: the rich nations desperate to avoid financial and legal liability for past emissions. Countries like Australia, Canada and Japan all backsliding away from previous commitments. The lack of leadership from democratic nation states is heart breaking. Environmentally focused civil society organisations are doing all they can to compensate for this lack of political leadership. They lobby, educate and network. This simply is not enough. Investment and action are urgently needed.
We have for long spoken about climate change policies and investments in terms of ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’. Now a third strand is emerging: ‘loss and damage’. Due to our failure to limit greenhouse gas emissions we see the consequences in ever more frequent and ever more extreme weather events. Super Typhoon Haiyan had winds of 199mph. Politicians seem incapable of promoting the best carbon negative technologies. Instead they allow the momentum of devastation to increase, and then react by giving aid to the victims. We continue to act as if extreme weather events were simply acts of God, ignoring our unwitting but rapidly growing influence on global weather patterns. Increasingly our policies and practices determine everything from the global area of forest cover to the acidity of the world’s oceans, from the gaseous composition of the atmosphere to the weather we all experience every day. That is an awesome responsibility for naked apes such ourselves to carry. Our political structures seem increasingly inadequate for the challenge, locked as they are in outdated notions of national security, national self interest, economic growth and the pursuit of political advantage. The fact that atmospheric Co2 is 400ppm and rising may be a greater determinant of future life expectancy than any normal political or economic criteria. We are coming up against Gaia’s bio-physical limits, and we as a species are expendable. The planet will endure without us.
My tone in these blogs is usually pretty upbeat. Indeed there is much going on that is worth celebrating. Ecological sustainability and global social justice are making great strides forward in many areas, usually despite national governments rather than lead by them. I’ll try and return to the positive side of things next time.
That cheeky chappie Russell Brand just won’t go away. He’s still all over the media, and yet the media seem largely to misunderstand him. The media are stuck in the Westminster Village, along with the three main parties; they seem to think that is the epicentre of political action. It simply is not. Look at where people are putting their energies. Membership of Avaaz has grown from zero to nearly 29 million in 7 years, while membership of the three main UK political parties has declined to well under half a million from over four million back in 1950, and is declining in most so-called democracies. The media still portray those that don’t vote as apathetic. Some are. More are angry. Also more are highly motivated and keen to see meaningful democracy reinvigorated: they just don’t see mainstream political parties as playing much of a role in this. Russell Brand plays the role of the wise fool or the court jester; he makes funny yet highly articulate exposures of the ridiculousness of our system, as in the story of the child and the emperor’s new clothes.
Russell Brand, like most of the world’s people is desperate to see a better world focused on social justice and ecological sustainability. How could anyone who cares about social justice and ecological sustainability not but be disappointed or disgusted with our three main parties. Margret Hodge on the BBC link below rightly claims to have beaten off the ghastly prospect of the BNP getting a seat at the last general election, but how anyone who believes in social justice can still be a member of the Labour party I find quite baffling. Inequality rose under Blair and Brown. Not to mention illegal wars and the rest. Keeping even worse parties from being elected seems to be the main selling point for all the main parties! Each claiming all the others are even worse than they are!
Cathy and Wendy from Herefordshire Climate Action Now!
I started this ‘Global Problems: Global Solutions’ blog in January 2010. The central message is that humanity could manage its affairs a whole lot better than it does. We are faced by a complex network of problems, the most critical of which is Climate Change. A network of inter-related solutions exists, at least in theory, but political will is the missing ingredient. Between 2007 and 2011 I devoted a lot of time to writing a manuscript for a book that remains unfinished and unpublished, but out of which has grown this blog, lots of talks, classes, reports and actions. After Bill McKibbens 2008 Schumacher Conference speech I got involved in 350.org and helped organise a big day of action in Hereford on 24th October 2009, that linked-in with similar actions in about 189 countries around the world. Last week I again heard Bill speaking, this time about the Carbon Bubble and Disinvestment Campaign. Do check-out 350.org’s website via the link below. They’re doing great things all over the world. In Herefordshire Wendy Harvey, Cathy Monkley and Erika Lyons have set-up CAN, Climate Action Now, and have worked with the 350.org team to organise a local petition, which I strongly urge my entire local readership that live in Herefordshire to sign. If you live elsewhere why not work with 350.org to set-up a similar petition to lobby your local politicians.
As I write this the CAN petition has 305 signatures. Let’s see how many we can get. We will then present the petition to the 58 Herefordshire Councillors and our two MPs. This will of course tie-in with other things going on within the county, such as the Re-energising Herefordshire Charter which was launched at the Courtyard on 15th October. There are many opportunities for beneficial change if we grasp the challenge of decarbonising our economy. We need to build a better informed conversation with our local politicians and this petition is a vital step: do sign it!
Last week I blogged about Russell Brands outrage and disgust with the three main UK political parties: his view is that we need a revolution which is largely spiritual. Would not a spiritual revolution manifest in changed outward behaviour? If Russell Brand still has his money invested in the fossil fuel industry this surely undermines his ethical stance on climate change, and his justifiable outrage at current political inaction.
On Thursday night I went to Birmingham to hear the inspirational Bill McKibben talk about the global fossil fuel disinvestment campaign. Known reserves of carbon based fuels are five times greater than the maximum amount we can possibly burn without causing catastrophic climate change. The share price of the oil, coal and gas companies is based on them exploiting all these known reserves. As we must leave the carbon under the ground these resources are effectively worthless and thus the share price of the fossil fuel companies rests on a carbon bubble. It makes both good economic and ecological sense to disinvest now. Churches, universities, individuals and organisations around the world are just beginning to do so. The disinvestment campaign was effective in helping bring down apartheid in South Africa. It will be a necessary element in bringing about effective action on climate change.
Russell Brand advocates not voting. Having been a Green Party, and before that Ecology Party, supporter since the mid-1970’s and having always voted for candidates who failed to get their deposits back I do share his frustration with the slowness of political change. Once in my life, many years ago, I did vote for one of the three main parties when no Green was standing, and with a vague sense of revulsion I voted Liberal Democrat to stop a Tory getting elected: I felt somehow polluted by the experience. However I think it is important to engage politically and valuable to look outside one’s own backyard for inspiration. The Green Party has famously made a breakthrough in Brighton, and just as impressively but less famously in Solihull, Kirklees and elsewhere. I’ll blog soon about some of these lesser known political heroes. They might even inspire Russell Brand to get up off the sofa and go and vote.