Monthly Archives: June 2015

Papal Encyclical

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

I’ve been reading the Papal encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ On Care for Our Common Home’. It is referred to as a Papal letter, but at 180 pages or 40,000 words it is more of a book than a letter. It is a very interesting read and pretty radical in many ways. Pope Francis seeks to reach out beyond the global catholic community and speak to all of humanity. Many non Catholics, like me, are reading and commenting favourably. He is showing leadership in the face of the huge and interconnected macro –ecological challenges facing humanity and linking it very powerfully to the need for immensely greater global social justice. Sadly this kind of leadership has been entirely lacking from the global political mainstream. It has also been lacking from the mainstream of the other global religions, even if within each of them there are individuals and groups showing real concern.

As someone who has variously described himself as an atheist, humanist, pantheist and pagan, or a woolly mix of all of them, it is certainly unusual for me to be singing the praises of a Pope. Since becoming Pope he has been a powerful voice speaking up for the poor. Now he is speaking up for the planet, or rather humanity’s need to reform its relationship to the Earth and the health of its complex ecosystems, upon which humanity’s wellbeing depends. The media have branded this as the Papal encyclical on Climate Change, and it is about Climate Change but also so much more.

In some ways this encyclical reminds me of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Professor Ian Gough of the London School of Economics, although not mentioning Gandhi, shows how this ‘revolutionary encyclical challenges both current ethics and economics’ by differentiating between “need” and “greed”. Gough explains: ‘These represent two worldviews. One seeks to satisfy our wants and preferences, which are limitless, non-satiable, substitutable and amoral. The other prioritises meeting universal human needs, which are limited, sufficient, non-substitutable and with clear ethical grounding.’

The encyclical also has much to say about love for the natural world being essential to human wellbeing and mental health. Seeing in nature only resources to be exploited we undermine our own individual and collective wellbeing. This again has huge implications for economic, political and ethical debate.

The Encyclical

Guardian on encyclical

Guardian letters including that of Prof Ian Gough

Jonathon Porritt on the encyclical and the challenge to the Church of England

Employment & Decarbonisation

coal mining

In 1974 and again in 1984-85 the National Union of Mineworkers was in conflict with Conservative governments. People were seen as supporting the striking miners or the government. You were either for the unions or for the government. Yet really both these were very narrow vested interest groups. Who was arguing the case for clean air, enhanced biodiversity or social justice for all? Even back then Climate Change was a concern for some of us, now it is pretty well universally agreed as an absolute priority by all but the most scientifically ill-informed. Decarbonising the global economy will mean the ending of many millions of people’s jobs. Of course it will also mean the creation of many millions of other jobs. What we need is a system that allows people not to feel threatened personally and economically by the contraction of their industries.

Closing the global advertising industry would certainly help reduce the demand that is driving hyped-up hyper-consumption. That too, like shutting coal-mines, might be part of a more sustainable future. Taxes on carbon and on advertising are policies I’d like to see implemented globally and as soon as possible. However advertising executives, like coal miners, would fight to protect their jobs. We need a system that allows people to feel economically secure while their sphere of employment contracts. We need a system that allows people to identify less with their current job title and more with their own personal potential. We need a system where people see their utter dependence on a well functioning biosphere, and where this takes precedence over their own short term economic fears.

Mining always was a dirty dangerous job. Why would anyone want to do it? Many other jobs are pretty soul destroying. Currently money is the main motivating force that keeps people chained to jobs they don’t really love doing, and to jobs that do not help the longer term wellbeing of humnaity. We need a system which values the time and creativity of all people, irrespective of whether they are coal miners, advertising executives, economic migrants or climate scientists. Perhaps now is the time for a universal global basic income so that everyone can live without economic insecurity? Or perhaps better still a global guarantee of work for all: there is an awful lot that needs to be done to provide prosperity for all 7.3 billion of us humans, and to do it in a way that does not jeopardise our longer term survival as a species.

G7 contemplate end of Fossil Fuel Era

G7 contemplate end of fossil fuels

G7 contemplate end of fossil fuels

Today the leaders of the G7 are just packing their bags and leaving Schloss Elmau in Bavaria. They talked about many things, but at last they are at least beginning to contemplate the end of the Fossil Fuel Era, and have called for a shift towards renewables and nuclear to replace fossil fuels. Roger Harrabin writing on the BBC website this morning says ‘This is a seismic shift- and an acknowledgement from the leaders, prompted by Angela Merkel, of the scale of the threat from climate change.’ So, a huge thank-you is due to Angela Merkel for getting the other more stuck in the mud leaders to begin to think the unthinkable. The timescale they are envisaging is still way too slow, but at least they are beginning to move.

Many factors may have influenced the world leaders to wake up to this issue. The Global Apollo Programme that I wrote about last week seems to be having an impact, as does the global disinvestment campaign and the economic threat of a fossil fuel asset bubble as climate change and the falling cost of renewables make fossil fuels increasingly unexploitable. The focus must be to shut down the global coal industry first: oil next, then gas, while all the time ramping up renewables, driving more efficient ways of doing things and also challenging the values of a consumer society. However this last point is the one world leaders are least likely to join in with yet, but seismic shifts do happen, so perhaps it’ll be on the cards for a future G7 meeting?

As ever with these things it is continued pressure from below that drags world leaders along. So time for a little quiet celebration all of you who’ve been lobbying on these issues for the last few decades! We’ll need to keep the pressure up, because for many of the world leaders climate change and energy transition is an issue they’d rather just not think about, let alone take the meaningful and rapid action required.

Two actions are emerging as the priorities that we should be lobbying world leaders to take. First stop subsidising the fossil fuel industry and switch the funding into renewables research and development. Second, now is the time to introduce a globally coordinated Carbon Tax.

Roger Harrabin


Global Apollo for Renewables

pv in Africa

pv in Africa

Roger Harrabin, writing on today’s BBC news website, highlights a group of scientists and economists who are calling on governments to make a concerted effort to increase investment in renewable energy. They call their project Global Apollo, after John F Kennedys’ challenge of getting a man on the moon within a decade. The group, led by Sir David King, want to see renewables become cheaper than fossil fuels within a decade, and for this to be achieved by increased and globally coordinated investment in renewables research and development. This is just what a number of people, me included, have been arguing in favour of for the last decade or so. I heard David Wasdell make exactly this call back in 2007 after he and colleagues submitted their report on climate change to the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, and David Wasdell made exactly the same comparison with the moon shot programme.

Larry Elliott, writing in Guardian back in April, wrote a long article titled ‘Can the world economy survive without fossil fuels?’ In some ways it wasn’t a bad article, but his greatest failing was one typical of mainstream media: he didn’t interview anyone who’s passionately immersed in the world of renewables. I would like to have heard the views of academics like Mark Z Jacobson of Stanford University, or David Elliott of the Open University, or entrepreneurs like Jeremy Leggett, or early renewables pioneers like Peter Harper of the Centre of Alternative Technology.

Tuesday 9th June I’ll be giving a talk (in Wellington, Shropshire) titled ‘Goodbye Oil, Hello Sunshine!’ I’ll be doing my best to explain how humanity might make the transition from ‘The Fossil-Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’. Lots of exciting stuff is going on in the world of renewables and I welcome David King and his new Global Apollo programme: the possibilities of globally replacing fossils fuels with renewables, for heating, transport and electricity, is a lot more positive and exciting than Larry Elliott and the Guardian seem to believe!

Roger Harrabin

Larry Elliott

Mark Z Jacobson and The Solutions Project

My talk