Manda Scott interviews Anthony Day
ANTHONY DAY: Hello, it's Friday, the 3rd of November. This is Anthony Day, this is the Sustainable Futures Report, but this one is different.
MANDA SCOTT: Indeed it is, thank you Anthony. This is in fact Manda Scott standing in this week for Anthony while he's away hosting a conference. We thought that as the podcast nears its 200th edition; it would be interesting to hear from Anthony himself; who he is, what he does when he's not presenting report, how he got here and where he's going. Don't forget, if you like the report you can support it on patreon.com/sfr . And then in the meantime, I interviewed Anthony last week, and my first question was; Anthony, who are you and what do you do when you're not presenting the sustainable futures report?
ANTHONY: Well, that's two big questions; I'll tell you what I do when I'm not actually presenting the sustainable futures report. Of course, writing it, researching it and talking to audiences whenever I get the chance about it. The other things I get involved in is our local community energy organization. I keep my bees, we have an allotment, so I won't say we're self-sufficient, but we do like to grow a few things like that. I’m involved in Toastmasters which is the ''International Speaking and Listening and Leadership Organization'' and that's taking a lot of time. I'm actually a director of their autumn conference which takes place in two weeks, which is taking a lot of my time just at the moment, and I we have grandchildren. I shouldn't really say that some of them are in Australia, because if we go down there as we will in December, there's a carbon footprint, that's the sort of things that I do. But if you say who am I, what have I done?
MANDA SCOTT: Perhaps it is better to let's go back to how did you get from there to here? What led you to being the kind of person who would set up the Sustainable Futures Report ?
ANTHONY: I've always being interested in sustainability and the environment for a very long time. In fact, I'm going to show you this is the Ecologist - Blueprint for Survival - which I bought it when it came out in February 1972. The interesting thing is, it says to start with an examination of the relevant information available has impressed upon us the extreme gravity of the global situation today. For if current trends are allowed to persist, the breakdown in society and irreversible destruction of a life support system on this planet, possibly by the end of the century, certainly within the lifetime of our children are inevitable, that's 45 years ago isn't it?
MANDA SCOTT: I just did the calculation, that’s exactly 45 years ago, and they are right. We just have to look around the world and find that they were right. So, what were you doing then 45 years ago that led you to be reading the Ecologist?
ANTHONY: Well, what I was actually doing is, I was working at a water meter factory as an organization and methods officer in Yorkshire. But I was interested in environmental issues, in low-impact living and that sort of thing, I don't know where it all came from. But it's an interest which I've had at the back of my mind for a very long time. And what actually crystalized it was much more recent when I read a book called ''The End of Oil’’; I'm talking about peak oil. And I realized that there was going to be a problem there if we were totally based on ''fossil fuels'', and we were using it faster than we were replacing it with new discoveries, it was going to be really serious. Of course the world has changed an awful lot since then, well fracking has revolutionized oil and gas in the States, and there have been techniques which mean that we can recover far more fossil fuels. But we’ve also realized the dangers of using fossil fuels and we’ve developed renewables.
I went back actually to 2007, when I started doing the sustainable futures report. At least I started doing the podcast - we didn’t call it that then, and it was quite interesting to listen to myself talking about what went on in 2007. The Carbon Trust had just launched the carbon footprint label, and I don't know whether you remember that. But Walkers Crisps got in on that, and on every packet there was a little carbon footprint label which said; this 37g of crisps have caused emissions of 75g of CO2. And the idea was that we put that on every product and people would realize what the impact was. Carbon Trust still exists, but I don’t think it does the carbon label anymore partly because the methodology is extremely difficult to create on a consistent basis. I mean things like, if an organization is totally vertically integrated, if it owned the farms which grew the potatoes, it owned the lorries which transported them as well as the factories and all that sort of thing, then it could identify the carbon at every single stage. But if it didn't, then it got messy and difficult and I think that's why it never took off.
But at the same time, I had forgotten all about this, Ed Miliband was saying that everyone in the country should have a carbon allowance, and the idea was that everybody was given carbon credits. So if you want to fly off to Australia and you haven't got enough carbon credit, then you buy them on the market. And this was a way of redistributing income, because people who wanted to go on exotic holidays would buy the credits from people who hadn't got the means or the interest in going on these exotic holidays and they would make money out of these carbon credits which the government had given them for nothing. That's an idea which...
MANDA SCOTT: It might be worth reviving, and one of the reasons I think some of us thought that Ed Miliband would make a good leader of the Labour party was, he was an exceptionally good environment minister.
ANTHONY: He was, yes.
MANDA SCOTT: Honest innovative ideas. The hierarchy of the party didn’t let him do anything at the time, and obviously when he became the leader that all evaporated, which is incredibly sad. Do you think either of those, the carbon footprints label or carbon credits might be something that would be worth reviving now, or is it too late?
ANTHONY: I think there are too many difficulties for the carbon label for it to actually be introduced, but I think carbon credits is quite a good idea. I've talked on the podcast a few times about the universal basic income and there is quite a lot of chat about the universal basic incom.e That might be a way, or it might be something which is done in parallel with the basic income. It's a way of giving benefits to the less fortunate people in society.
MANDA SCOTT: Yes, and it's a way to create a currency ''a parallel currency'' in which the banks one hopes they can change the trading rules, so it wasn't something that could be shuffled into Panama accounts. So that it became something that effectively was a national, but a global counter-currency and then if you were to link it to ways of producing energy that were such a renewable system I suppose, it would give everybody a sort of panel that they could put on the roof and that way they can generate their own carbon credits by creating their own energy. Then you begin to have ways of currency and trading that are not linked to things that the banks created out of nothing, then that would be quite exciting.
ANTHONY: Yes, well maybe that's something that could be done, but there's no political appetite at the moment, everybody is unfortunately totally focused on ‘’Brexit’’. I don't want to talk about that because we could talk about that all afternoon.
MANDA SCOTT: We could, and we would lose a lot of time and bounce our heads off the walls.
ANTHONY: But all I would say is, it is taking an enormous amount of government time, of civil service time and money, both of which could be used better elsewhere.
MANDA: Yes, and every sense a catastrophe anyway. So how did you come to set up the sustainable futures report? What was your aim and how did you get to do it?
ANTHONY: Well, I think the aim was to raise my profile, also to develop credibility. And I think it has done that, in that I can now turn around and say I've done nearly 200 episodes. I was wrong when I said on the latest episode that it was number 224, I thought I'd done more podcasts than blogs, but in fact it's the other way around. It's 196 so far, but it does seem to be raising the profile because I've had people approach me and say that they want to appear on the sustainable futures report. I've got an interview with the international copper association which will come out on the first of December. I've got an organization which wants to talk about the sort of challenges from sustainability in the humanist context. I've also got an organization which is in ''nuclear fusion'' and they want to talk about things.
MANDA SCOTT: Magical technology that is always 40 years away, that would be really interesting.
ANTHONY: Yes, but I've had somebody else who contacted me about that a while ago and I’m very remiss that I haven't actually followed up on him. Because I went back with that response yes, it’s the one that's always been 40 years out. He says no, hang on, things have changed. So I need to read up on what he sent me, because that could be interesting. The whole nuclear field is very interesting, because while Hinkley C, which is going to be the most expensive building site in the world and isn’t guaranteed to work…
MANDA SCOTT: And it will cost us electricity and twice the current rate.
ANTHONY: Yes, but the other thing of course is, ''the neighborhood nuclear reactor''. Now the average person is probably not going to like that idea. But we in the UK apparently are leaders in producing compact ''nuclear reactors'', the type that run submarines. And people live in nuclear submarines right next to nuclear power plants, and they don't suffer any ill effects. So I feel if we put something like that in a few shipping containers at the end of the street, people wouldn't know what it was at all or why it was there, but that might be a way forward.
MANDA SCOTT: It would have to be very much protected in terms of being a terrorist target, wouldn't it? Can you imagine a shipping container at the end of your street and what happens when somebody decides to run a car bomb into it?
ANTHONY: Oh yes, you'd have to take precautions. But of course it would be so much smaller than a traditional nuclear power station, but obviously one has to think it through.
MANDA SCOTT: Nuclear fusion I think, I feel really its closer, it's a lot safer.
ANTHONY: Yes, it is. And then the ''thorium reactor'', that also is safer I believe, insofar as apparently the waste from a thorium reactor loses most of its potency in 100 years, whereas other reactors it’s thousands of years.
MANDA SCOTT: That will be interesting, because there was a report in the Guardian this week, so we're in the middle of October just now saying that; effectively the civilian nuclear program was being used to supplement the military nuclear program. And that if it wasn't the case, that the military UK nuclear program was surviving on the back of the civilian one, then the civilian one probably wouldn't exist.
MANDA SCOTT: So, if we move to thorium or a nuclear fusion, then they don't have any impact on the military and it will be really interesting to see how much the government suddenly loves nuclear if it didn't have the department of defense behind it saying come on guys we need this too.
ANTHONY: Yes, but it’s not as though we're using up our armoury, is it? Every nuclear bomb that has been made since the war has not been used. And I would have thought if they need to restructure and start working in a different way, they could use the existing stock. But then, I’m no expert on that sort of thing.
MANDA SCOTT: Yes, that's interesting isn't it? We need to look into what we're actually using it for.
MANDA SCOTT: So, when you set up the sustainable feature report, it was to raise your profile?
MANDA SCOTT: And obviously your reach is extending across the world and it's growing every day. What are your aims now? Your profile is raised, and it is increasingly rising, where are you heading with it?
ANTHONY: I'm looking for the opportunity to actually go and stand on the stage in front of an audience and present the ideas. To be honest I haven't done any sustainability related presentations for quite a long time. And the thing is, every time I do a presentation, it's different, because the world is changing. I have a lot of colleagues and friends in the professional speaking association, and many of them have a theme and they're producing the same presentation again and again, because their truth is constant and it's what they do. They are the person who talks about ''better presentations skill'', or they are the person who talks about ''improving your sales'' and they are very good at it. Now, I talk about sustainability, and a lot of people don't want to hear about it, because it is bad news, obviously it is bad. And it changes all the time, so the big thing with commercial presentation is the audience says at the end of your presentation; when I walk away, where is the benefit?
Now, a sales person can say, “Your sales force will go out, reinvigorated and you will see those numbers rise.” I can't say that, all I can say is, if you do things this way, you might not actually suffer damage or loss of business. I can't offer you anything that's actually going to be better, but I can help you stop things getting worse. And of course it is completely difficult and impossible to measure how you've actually prevented somebody from making things worse. It's a bit like, somebody who was saying something about the man who invented the locks on aircraft doors -didn’t get any recognition for it. But who can say what terrorist attacks he’s prevented.
MANDA SCOTT: So, do you think having got a podcast which has clearly got a wide reach, do you still want to stand on the stage and speak to people? Is that likely to have more impact or is it simply something that pays better?
ANTHONY: Well, hopefully it pays better, yes. It's also a partly that I enjoy interacting with a live audience. Anyway, in the meantime, I'm going to follow your lead and go back to school. I've applied to Leeds Beckett University to do a PhD.
MANDA SCOTT: Fantastic, in what?
ANTHONY: In sustainability, at the institute of sustainability. Now apparently the first 6 months or so is spent refining the actual scope of the thesis, and what I want to examine is the method of promoting the sustainability message; things like why denialists are getting all the attention and why in fact even though this is one of the most serious issues in history, even though the ways that we change things will actually keep people's standard of living where it was and possibly better, making it more comfortable, people are totally resistant against change. And of course there are the vested interests, because if you're an oil company, you want to sell oil. So, that's what I want to study over the next few years.
MANDA SCOTT: Interesting, and is that full-time or part-time?
ANTHONY: It will be part-time.
MANDA SCOTT: And how many years would it take?
ANTHONY: It would probably take five years.
MANDA SCOTT: Gosh.
ANTHONY: I really haven't got my head around why it should take such a long time. So, once we get a bit further down the application process, and I hope to actually meet more of the academic staff and know exactly why it does take so long. I think it does involve quite a lot of interviews and surveys and censuses and things like that which will take quite some time to publish and then gather the data from and analyze. But it’s early days, but I wanted to do that partly to focus what I do on sustainability. You look at the sustainability futures report, every episode has got at least half a dozen very different topics in it. And am I an expert, well in what? Because it's so broad, maybe this will narrow my field a bit, but we'll see. It will also give me two things which I'm looking forward to; It will give me access to online academic journals. And quite often I chase stories down I come up against a paywall. Now I can't afford to subscribe to all these things obviously. So as a student I should be able to get into a lot of these things like Nature for example. Yes, that's one of the things.
And the other thing is a bit of; I'd like to get some sort of academic credit for what I believe is a large body of knowledge which I have built up at quite a long time.
MANDA SCOTT: Yes, so in this as you're building towards the PhD, who are your role models in the world of communicating sustainability?
ANTHONY: I think we've got to say Al Gore. He has worked very hard, I wasn't impressed with his latest film, it was too much of a movie about Al Gore, rather than about the sustainability agenda. But he’s stuck with it and I understand that he’s even gone vegan, which I think is quite a challenge. Incidentally, I'm going to, when I get time; get hold of the vegan society, because if you look at their website, it says sustainability all over it. So, I'm going to get hold of them and say look, explain to me why I should be vegan. I'm not saying I would be, but you know…
It's very difficult to think of a role model, but one person who impresses me is ''Elon Musk’’; do you know who I mean?
MANDA SCOTT: Yes, absolutely, Tesla Tiles, Tesla cars, yes.
ANTHONY: Yes, well, Elon Musk actually started, I believe setting up PayPal and he made his money there. He set up Tesla yes, which markets electric cars everywhere in the world as far as I can see. And in the process of launching his mass-market car, he also is chief executive, and in fact this is more than a name. He's chief executive of ''Tesla cars’’; he's chief executive of ''Space X’’, which is the company which has successfully launched missions to the space station and has supplied the space station. They have developed a rocket which will actually come back and land. And the sort of technology that he is stimulating, and I think it's amazing and he's only 46. And if you read the account of how his working week goes, it's quite incredible, so that's somebody to watch I think. And the lot of things he's doing is very green, but I'm not altogether sure that I agree with ''space tourism''.
MANDA SCOTT: Or with the idea of an exodus to Mars, so those who can afford it or those who are chosen will be able to get to Mars when this planet finally is uninhabitable and that’s the aim of Space X.
ANTHONY: But that's interesting, yes he's talking about a colony of a million people on Mars and Steven Hawking is also saying that the future of human race is on Mars. I think people have got to realize that's the future of the human race as a species. He’s not suggesting all seven and half billion of us will actually go there.
MANDA SCOTT: No, and what's amazing, I think is that they’re look at Mars and thinking “that could be inhabitable.” And not looking at planet earth and thinking; “well it's pretty inhabitable now and we can stop it becoming uninhabitable without needing to send everybody off to Mars which currently is significantly less inhabitable”.
MANDA SCOTT: So where we were going was, we're not going to talk about Brexit, we're not going to talk about Trump. But the world is in the state that it’s in. Denialists have some very strong arguments to which a lot of people are listening, and our culture is not giving everything that it has to reversing the impacts of climate change and to mitigating further carbon losses. How do you see the world progressing in the next 5-10 years, first as it is? And second, what if we were to get it right, what if everybody was to listen to the sustainable futures report and believe it?
ANTHONY: Well are people going to make radical changes in the next 5-10 years? I think not, you know. Because looking back at 2007, an awful lot of books had been published at that time about climate change and environmental issues. There was a ''May Day'' conference which was led by the ''Prince of Wales'' and that was a conference across the whole of UK, I mentioned that in a podcast recently. It was networked with video links to 20 different places across the United Kingdom. And the following year they did it again, and the year after that they did it again, and each year got smaller and smaller and they don't do it anymore.
We've seen George Osborne change the rules on car tax, because we did have a whole range of different car tax bands dependent on the amount of CO2s which the cars emitted. Every car is exactly the same unless it is pure electric. So, people have just sort of thought, well, they didn't think about it anymore. You're going to buy a new car, you concerned out emissions? No, not at all. But why not? There's a long way to go, and I think we can only make people change if we can make them see that it's in their interest and that is the conundrum which, well I think everybody would like to know the answer to how you can influence people to accept change.
MANDA SCOTT: So, final question then. Do you have a message for those of us who listen to the sustainable futures report week-in, week-out? What would you have us do besides listening? If you had a message just for listeners, what would it be?
ANTHONY: Tell me what you like, tell me what you'd like to hear more of, let me focus it on what you think is important. Because I'm sitting in a vacuum, I'm looking at the press, I'm listening to the media, I pick up things which I think are interesting. But, it's got to be something which helps you develop your understanding and I'm here to do that for the people who listen to it.
The other thing I think I would say is a practical thing you can do, ''check your carbon footprint''. I'm going to check my own, we had Professor Coplan the other day, talking about how he has got a 4 ton carbon footprint as against 22 tons, which the average American does. I bumped into somebody the other day, he said he won a prize a few years ago for having the lowest carbon footprint in the UK, and he reckoned it was 1 ton. So, I think what we'll look at is not only what our carbon footprints are, but we'll look at the different measures with different algorithms on the internet to see whether one measure gives us a different result from another. And maybe we should challenge each other to review our carbon footprints every year and to see how we're doing.
MANDA SCOTT: Fantastic, so Anthony Day; creator of the sustainable futures report. Thank you very much for coming along to answer questions, and I hope our listeners have enjoyed it. And if you have guys, then you need to write in and let Anthony know whether you like this or not, whether you'd like more things like this and particularly do tell him what it is that you'd like to hear, so that we can focus in more closely on that. Anthony, thank you.
ANTHONY: Thank you, it's been a pleasure.