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I’m Anthony Day and this is your Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 22nd March. Remember, the text version of every episode with links to all my sources is on the blog at www.sustainablefutures.report.
Vox pop–the voice of the people.
And that was the voice of the young people who came out of school last week to protest against the lack of action on climate change. More about that later.
First of all, thank you for listening. More than twice as many people listened to last week’s episode as to any previous episode this year. The total number of downloads for March has already exceeded the total for February and is well on the way to exceeding December and January. So, as I say, thank you for listening and, if you are, thank you for being a patron. Patrons help me cover the costs associated with this podcast, contributing anything from one dollar per month upwards. If you'd like to be a patron, you'll get a shout out on the podcast and you may qualify for a unique Sustainable Futures Report enamel badge. There are other benefits. Find the details at www.patreon.com/sfr. Apart from that I’m completely independent. There’s no advertising, no subsidy, no sponsorship and no support. And I’ve never heard of Cambridge Analytica.
This week I've been reading There is no Planet B by Mike Berners-Lee and I'll tell you how it compares with The Uninhabitable Earth which I reviewed earlier. I’ve been in touch with Jem Bendell who I spoke about last week. I’m told he is totally overwhelmed by responses to his paper but I hope to be able to interview one of his colleagues later in May. He sent me a whole lot of information and I've added the links to the blog, which you know can always be found at www.sustainable futures.report. This week I've also discovered a lot of information about denial. Why do people deny things and what can we do about it? And there's other news: about air pollution, Coca-Cola bottles, gas heating and a few gripes about my abandoned PhD.
On The March
Last Friday 1.4 million students in 128 countries across the world marched for climate action.
Here’s what I heard at my local protest, and then I spoke to sixth-former Maisie Outhart who organised the Youth Strike 4 Climate in York. She’s York’s representative on the Youth Parliament.
[Hear the interviews on the podcast - unfortunately there is no transcript]
A fundamental problem with getting the climate message across is denial. No one will support solutions if they believe that the problem doesn't exist.
People deny the Holocaust, HIV, the safety of vaccines; some even deny that the Earth is round. And of course they deny climate change. You may remember that I started researching for a PhD last year. I wanted to look into why climate change deniers seem to get more attention from policymakers than scientists do. My supervisors told me that this was far too vague and difficult to prove and that I should look for something else in the sustainability field. Maybe it's because sustainability falls within the School of the Built Environment at Leeds Beckett University that I was finally pushed towards studying smart meters instead. Once I realised that countless academics had already done smart meters to death I abandoned my studies.
The Age of Denial
But last week I came upon a series of programmes on BBC Radio 4 called The Age of Denial presented by Isabel Hardman. (You can find it on the BBC Sounds app.) I heard researchers talking about different aspects of denial and the books that they'd written about it. Maybe there's a PhD in it after all. Actually, I don’t think I’ve got time to study for a PhD because the climate crisis is so urgent, but I am going to research denial, because we need to change minds, to develop consensus and work together for change. Here's a summary of the points that I have gleaned so far.
My story so far
Denial can minimise the impact of a shock and can be beneficial at least in the short term. At one extreme people may take the “I don’t care” position in the face of facts that they don’t want to accept. In some cases organisations will go so far as to establish quasi-scientific structures with conferences and journals to promote their particular views. For most people it’s very difficult to distinguish this from mainstream science. The tobacco industry had its academic foundation right up to the 1990s. You can decide for yourself how truly scientific organisations such as the European Research Group and the Global Warming Policy Foundation really are.
Optimism has been classed by some as a form of denial - a denial of reality. Yet without optimism many inventions and discoveries might not have been made. People are more ready to accept optimistic statements than negative ideas. For example: “Climate change is going to make life really difficult,” is a statement most people would like to forget. On the other hand, “There are many ways in which we can tackle climate change and maintain a good lifestyle,” is something people are more likely to listen to and to discuss. Telling people facts is not enough to change their minds. It’s important to find out what we agree on and to understand the facts as they see them. Of course there are some people who will never listen and will never be persuaded. Minds can be changed, but it depends to certain extent on the nature of the denial. Every day we deny things, often trivial, without noticing. Sometimes we are literally in two minds and keep the truth and our beliefs rigorously separate. And sometimes we deny and lie deliberately because we perceive advantage from doing so.
Bystanders and Fake News
Then there’s the bystander phenomenon. “I’ve a pretty good idea it’s going on, but I’ll keep my head down because it’s nothing to do with me.” That seems to be what politician David Steele has been saying. And there’s autocracy, where denial is policy and dissenters are silenced. Stalin repressed evidence of facts that he did not want to believe. And there’s fake news, which can become so pervasive that nobody can be sure of the actual truth any more.
That’s a very brief summary of what I’ve learnt so far. I have a number of books on order to improve the depth of my understanding. As I see it, denial is the greatest threat to taking prompt action to mitigate climate change. I want to understand it and find ways to overcome it. I’ll let you know how I get on.
A Good Read
As I mentioned last time, I’ve been reading The Uninhabitable Earth, a story of the future, by David Wallace-Wells. Patron Manda Scott suggested I should get another angle on this by reading There is no planet B by Mike Berners-Lee. Mike is the founder of Small World Consulting and a professor in the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University in the UK, where he researches the global food system and carbon metrics.
The thing that marks this book out is that it’s very accessible. As Mike says in the introduction, you can read it all the way through or you can just dip in and out. The book is a series of questions grouped into sections on food, climate change, energy, travel and technology; in fact all the topics that I aim to cover in the Sustainable Futures Report. In addition he talks about growth, money and metrics, people and work, values, truth and trust, and thinking skills. At the back of the book there is a big picture summary which takes us through his main points in three pages. Another two pages answer the question “what can I do?” There's an appendix on climate change basics including the 14 points “which every politician needs to understand before they are fit for office”, and that's followed by an alphabetical quick tour with summaries of all the key points from aeroplanes, animal feed and balloon squeezing, through carbon capture and storage, double-sided photocopying and electric cars to greed, denial, nuclear power, waste food and well-being. An important point that Mike Berners-Lee makes is that we need to develop the way we think about these challenges. We need to specifically develop our thinking skills, he says. “These include big picture thinking, joined up thinking, future thinking, critical thinking, dedication to truth, self-awareness, global empathy and a better appreciation of the small things in this beautiful world that we live in.”
How do these books compare?
The Uninhabitable Earth is challenging from the start. The opening line is “It is worse, much worse, than you think.” At the end of the book the author says, “No one wants to see disaster coming, but those who look, do.” For him, the key question is “How much will we do to stall disaster, and how quickly?” He believes that human action will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control. Nevertheless, we are too ready to run from our responsibilities by assigning tasks to future generations, to magical technologies or to remote politicians. His overall message seems to me to be that things could get extremely bad, but how bad they get is our choice and in our hands.
“There is No Planet B” takes a much broader view than just the climate crisis. After all, there’s no point in saving the planet if it’s not a nice place to live, so dealing with pollution and managing the food supply and energy and transport and jobs are all important. Mike Berners-Lee does not deny that we face a disastrous future or that while we have the means to mitigate and adapt we are not yet doing nearly enough, but he takes a quieter approach than David Wallace-Wells. The eternal paradox, of course, is that if you overstate your case of how really bad things are people will block them out. While if you soften your approach they may say, “No problem,” and do nothing.
I recommend both these books. There’s No Planet B is ideal for your bedside table because you can dip in and out until you drop off to sleep. The Uninhabitable Earth is probably not such a good idea at bedtime. It’ll probably keep you awake.
And in other news…
King’s College London announces The EXHALE Programme - A London study to identify links between pollution and childhood asthma.
They say: “Traffic pollution contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and is an important factor in the increasing incidence of childhood asthma. As a densely populated city with major air quality issues and high levels of childhood asthma, London provides an ideal setting to study the effects of pollution on health, particularly in relation to the Congestion Charging Scheme and Low Emission Zones.”
Well I suppose it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, but air pollution is increasingly recognised as a cause of premature death across the world.
Less Gas, More Hot Air
In his Spring statement the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that to help meet climate targets, the government would advance the decarbonisation of gas supplies by increasing the proportion of green gas in the grid, helping to reduce dependence on burning natural gas in homes and businesses. To help ensure consumer energy bills would be low and homes would be better for the environment, the government would introduce a Future Homes Standard by 2025, so that new build homes would be future-proofed with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. So that’s six years down the line, and affects only new-build, not the majority of the UK’s energy-inefficient housing. Unsurprisingly there was a mixed response from Greenpeace. They supported initiatives as far as they went - including a biodiversity assessment. (Why is that the responsibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer - he’s the finance minister?)
Mel Evans, Senior Campaigner at Greenpeace said, “Tackling the climate emergency demands much bigger thinking. Issues like the shoddy state of our existing housing stock and rapid adoption of electric vehicles require serious money behind serious policies. A good start would be banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. Equally, when compared to ideas like frequent fliers paying more and more heavily for trips abroad, carbon offsetting transport falls very short. Paying lip service to action, and piecemeal measures are not an option. It’s time for strong words to be matched with strong action.”
You may have seen a recent story in the press about how Coca Cola uses 3m tonnes of plastic packaging including more than 110bn plastic bottles each year. Actually that was only part of the story. It came out of a new report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on the NEW PLASTICS ECONOMY GLOBAL COMMITMENT. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is dedicated to the promotion of the circular economy, which includes the elimination of waste by recovering used products and materials for reuse as raw materials.
The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment unites businesses, governments, and other organisations behind a common vision and targets to address plastic waste and pollution at its source. It is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with UN Environment.
Launched in October 2018, the Global Commitment already unites more than 350 organisations on its common vision of a circular economy for plastics, keeping plastics in the economy and out of the ocean. Signatories include 150 businesses, 16 governments, 26 financial institutions, WWF, the World Economic Forum and 50 academics and universities. They have all endorsed one common vision of a circular economy for plastics.
Coca-Cola is by no means the only familiar brand to have signed up to the commitment, although it is the largest user of packaging. Hardly surprising when 1.9 billion people drink their products every day. Nestlé, Pepsico, Unilever, L’Oréal and Mars have all signed up to the commitment, as well as major packaging manufacturers and 5 of the top 15 global retailers.
The Coca Cola PET bottle is 100% recyclable. The company has set a target of 100% recyclable packaging by 2025. It is currently at over 87%, as its predominant packages are already 100% recyclable.
Similar messages come from the other companies. Using recyclable packaging is great, but we still have to provide the infrastructure so that the consumer can send it back for recycling. There has got to be action - and investment - shared by the government, the manufacturers, the retailers and the consumers. 1.9 billion bottles and cans per day. That’s an awful, awful lot of rubbish to clear up.
That’s all for this week.
I’m Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday the 22nd of March.
Thank you for listening, especially if you've got this far. Have you thought about being a patron? Your support is always much appreciated and here's a special thank-you to my existing patrons. If you'd like to join their number the website you need is www.patreon.com/sfr.
That indeed is it for now and the next episode is scheduled for 29th March. That was planned to be a highly significant day for the United Kingdom. Whether it will be or not is still up in the air at the time of writing, but that's another story.
I mentioned that I have started looking into the phenomenon of denial and I have a range of books on my shelf. I think the topic is crucial to meeting the challenge of climate change within sustainability so I'm going to spend some time on this. For this reason there will not be a Sustainable Futures Report at the Easter weekend and probably not in the following week either. Writing these broadcasts takes several days each week. I'm going to use the time for research. Oh, and we're going on holiday as well.
As I said, the next episode is next Friday.
Links to ways you can follow Jem Bendell's work and connect with others who are incorporating Deep Adaptation framework into their lives and work.
(I’m not endorsing this - I’m still at the early stages of understanding his position.)
- Join the Deep Adaptation Forum
- See the courses he offers
- Join this Linkedin group.
- Subscribe to Jem's blog
- Receive his quarterly mail
- Receive the Deep Adaptation quarterly mail
- Read the Deep Adaptation paper:
- See his first DA public talk in Bristol
- See Jem's engagements in 2019
- Join the DA Facebook group
- Follow this Twitter @DeepAdaptation
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