‘System Change Now!’ … What?

Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, announces lawsuit against 5 big oil companies, 17th Sept 2023

The book I wrote over the last couple of years was called ‘System Change Now!’ and I’m currently running a monthly discussion group with the title ‘Exploring System Change’. What exactly do I, and the millions of others seeking system change, mean?

As is all too apparent the climate is changing and extreme weather events are becoming ever more extreme, and ever more common. Countless species of plants and animals are becoming extinct or are in worrying decline. Many aspects of human health and wellbeing are deteriorating due to increasing pollution, poverty and stress. None of it has to be this way. Everything could be turned around, but that implies a scale of change inconceivable under present political and economic systems. So, those political and economic systems can and must be changed.

Changing global political and economic systems will not happen through a single manifesto or violent revolution, but it is already happening in myriad ways that interconnect into a complex ecosystem of change making.

For decades big oil has known about the likely climate impacts of burning oil, and has systematically lied to us all about it. Their objective was to keep profits rolling in, whatever the terrible consequences might be. They funded, and continue to fund, think tanks that have dominated our media and our politics, and therefore our investments and our infrastructure. They have deliberately attacked climate scientists and delayed action to reduce emissions and have prevented any meaningful debate about leaving the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. At long last this is being challenged as Californian governor Gavin Newsom has filed a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP. Much more climate litigation will follow.

Simultaneously the whole cleantech and renewable energy sector is making massive strides forwards. Now quitting all fossil fuels and moving the entire global economy over to 100% renewables for everything, (electricity, heating, cooling, transport and industry) looks both economically and ecologically the most sensible thing to do, and do as fast as humanly possible.

In last week’s discussion group Nick Sherwood cited the old adage ‘Think Global: Act Local’. I find it endlessly fascinating to read and to think about these changing global possibilities, but our ability to act is severely limited on this global stage. Haydn, connecting into the group via livestreamed social media, wanted to know about the very local issue of why Hereford is so car-centric, and provision of walking and cycling infrastructure, and of public transport, is so poor. Of course decades of politicians and planners influenced by the lobbying power of big oil has not helped. But this can be turned around. We have countless examples of cities around the world that have massively reduced car use and promoted active travel, better public transport and localized services. Dutch and Danish cities have long since led on this, but Paris is now rapidly moving in this direction. Hand in hand with this often goes to desire to improve air quality and clean-up rivers and waterways, all resulting in major gains in terms of human health and wellbeing.

The interconnection between the local and the global is well demonstrated by this example. To help improve life in Hereford we need to learn from the cities that have made this transition away from cars and pollution and toward more human-friendly urban spaces. We need to debate the possibilities, and Professor John Whitelegg with be leading such a discussion, focused on the adoption of a 20mph speed limit, at De Koffie Pot, Left Bank, Hereford, 7.00pm tomorrow evening (Weds 20th Sept). We also need better politicians, and helping Ellie Chowns of the Green Party beat the Tory Bill Wiggin at the upcoming General Election would greatly help matters, as would Diana Toynbee unseating Jesse Norman. These are all small steps in a vast and global movement seeking to change our systems; our systems of transport planning, of politics, and of pretty much everything else.

Exploring System Change

Me with my placard, ‘Change Politics not the Climate’

Exploring ‘System Change’ with Richard Priestley. Starting on Thursday 14th September at 7.00pm, St John’s Methodist Church Hall (East St entrance) a monthly series of evenings discussing concepts around creating system change.

The first session will be an envisioning exercise. If extractive, consumer-driven capitalism is destroying the world, then what is the best kind of society that would meet human needs while allowing nature to recover? How does system change occur: what role for protest, innovation and living ethical lifestyles? If we had a lot of money, how could we invest it to solve multiple problems simultaneously?

My plan is for these discussion evenings to be on the 2nd Thursday of the month, starting on Thursday 14th September, then 12th October and 9th November. We may well continue in the New Year if people want to. The idea is that the questions we investigate, and what balance we make between me giving a talk and a more general open discussion, will in large part be determined by how the participants want these sessions to evolve.

Subsequent sessions might focus on themes such as:

What kind of economy (and politics) makes sense, given the realities of the global crisis (climate/biodiversity/inequality)?

Can we feed 8 billion people, while also restoring biodiversity” The answer to this is an emphatic Yes! (With a few very big IF’s and BUT’s)

From ‘The Fossil-Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’.” This is an exploration about how we move to 100% renewable energy for the whole world, for all uses, from electricity to transport, heating and cooling to industrial processes. (Progress on this front is happening much faster than most people understand.)

 These sessions are supported by Herefordshire Friends of the Earth.

For background see my book ‘System Change Now!’ or explore this blog. If you’ve questions e-mail richardjpriestley@hotmail.com


Apologies for not posting any blogs for the last seven or eight weeks. What with holidays, visitors and the vegetable garden, I’ve just not got around to writing much. I must admit that the vegetable garden is somewhat of an obsession, and at this time of year it is almost a full-time job.

We are busy havesting fruit to eat and for the freezer, jams and preserves. Raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, gooseberries, rhubarb, redcurrents, blackcurrents, josterberries, cherries are all in full production now. Apricots should be ready soon, then peaches, pears, blackberries, damsons, greengages, Victoria plums, and apples.

We harvest a range of vegetables every day of the year, especially salads, herbs, and leafy greens like kale and chard. We’ve had a huge crop of field beans this year. Here are a few photos of the vegetable garden, all taken this morning, on Tuesday 4th July 2023.

Runner Beans flowering well!
Courgettes and Squashes growing on a compost heap, with the squashes climbing up a mesh fence. We are harvesting the courgettes already, and squashes forming nicely: one can be seen in the centre of the picture.
Apricots ripening over tomatoes, peppers, chillis, aubergines, and just undersown with winter salads and carrots. Rhubarb outside the greenhouse.