- Published: 17 January 2017 17 January 2017
The window of opportunity is closing… but the price of failure is still too high!
The rate of ecological destruction is now so bad that the fate of our civilisation literally hangs in the balance. The loss of the Arctic polar ice cap, the melting from above and below of Antarctica, the culling and collapse of forests and dying oceans, failing ecosystems, our atmosphere burdened with hundreds of billions of tonnes of extra greenhouse gases, and still each week scientists report more broken links in the chains of interconnectedness that sustain each one of us, rich and poor, on this planet. Despite all this, the great human enterprise built on a foundation of carbon, rumbles on in search of new fixes.
In spite of the above, human ingenuity and progress present us with the hope of technological salvation with innovations designed to improve the lives of the poorest around the world, or accelerating progress in moving to cleaner technologies, preventions and cures for diseases that save and extend lives, and so on. In so many areas of our life we could say we live in a “Golden Age”.
A good example for me is the wine industry where a combination of human understanding of climate, geology, technology and the process of winemaking itself has revolutionised the industry, creating higher quality, more choice and value on a massive scale.
Wine may not sound like the noblest of examples but over 30 million Brits (well over 50% of the adult population) drink wine each month. But changes are afoot in the wine world too. Technology and knowledge will only serve the winemaker so much; the climate must deliver ripe fruit. As climatic changes are impacting the wine world, so they are all walks of life. As John Kerry said at COP22 in Marrakech, “time is not on our side”!
Politics and populist revolt
At a time when the Paris Agreement should be absorbed into law in every nation in the world whilst being rigorously critiqued for its weaknesses and ratcheted up to maximum effectiveness, we find the opposite is happening.
In Britain the population has voted for and, the polls indicate, still support an exit from the European Union. Across Europe we are seeing an emerging revolt against liberal politics and protective ideals that many of us had come to take for granted.
In America we see in real time a combination of corporate and billionaire tycoon mafia taking control of the nation based on a foundation of lies and highly immoral values that have as their meat the rhetoric of anti-politics.
The general feeling among many across the western world is that the incumbent ruling political elites are carving a world for themselves outside of democratic accountability and are forming a new ruling class, whilst the middle and working classes inherit a future of diminishing jobs and prospects.
As discontent has grown, so has the need for venting of frustrations against the status quo. The tabloid media is very adept at reflecting and amplifying the mood of the populace, stoking antipathy and anger. Many of these news outlets are owned by corporations and these in turn have investments that form the underbelly of their news agenda.
In the world today, the interconnectivity between news outlets and industries such as the fossil fuel industry is well documented. When these interests clash with political objectives such as human rights or climate change, the news outlets go into overdrive to misinform and distort the news to cause greater outcry.
In the case of case of Europe, we can see that weak leadership in failing to connect a collective vision of the future to strive for, has created a void. Creeping into this emptiness are the lowly likes of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. Yet these men offer no vision of an achievable better future. Instead they exploit difference, tempt hatred and peddle an endless stream of false promises.
Chris Bickerton - Author of 'A Citizens Guide To The EU'
The fight back
The era of Trump and Farage is a strong signal that the precipice has arrived. The same signal is a call to action, a call to all those who can, in whatever way, stand up and be part of that projection of our future towards we which we are all striving.
We will not convince everybody that the world is worth saving but we can convince enough. If there is one thing events in recent politics have shown us, it is that on very small margins big victories are won.
Politics, finance, science and….you!
Somewhere in the midst of 2016 a few of us conceived of the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series (CCLS) as an attempt to take important messages beyond the boundaries of those who are already aware of the urgency to act on climate change. In planning this lecture series, it has been a major part of the organisational raison d’être to engage a wider audience, taking advantage of social media streaming capabilities and the ability spread messages across multiple platforms. The lecture series and concluding panel discussion will be live streamed for free online and we invite all and sundry to watch, share, engage and learn.
The inaugural lectures will feature three speakers whose area of expertise is an integral ingredient in the mix required to build our vision of a liveable future and pathway to achieve it.
On the political side we have Baroness Bryony Worthington who was the lead author of the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act, and is the founder of Sandbag, an organisation set up to create awareness of and improve the European Emissions Trading Scheme. Baroness Worthington is also the executive director of the Environmental Defence Fund.
As the first speaker in the series Bryony will use her experience in both climate campaigning and politics to explain how tackling climate change effectively is a struggle between politics and physics. When the barriers that currently prevent the former from accepting the reality of the latter are reduced, then progress will be made. Of course, as mentioned earlier, the finite factor is time and we find ourselves on the prevaricating on the precipice.
2. Finance & investment
In my interview with Professor John Schellnhuber (PIK) last year, he defined the path to achieving milestones, such as the Paris Agreement, as being like a “sustainability tango between investors, policymakers and civil society”. The second speaker fits this bill in being the chief executive officer of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, Anthony Hobley. Carbon Tracker are a team of acclaimed financial analysts who are cited as the first people to coin the term “stranded assets” in relation to the risk posed to investment funds from exposure to fossil fuel companies.
The importance of the work of Carbon Tracker cannot be underestimated. Using the science as the mathematical basis from which to calculate risk, Anthony and his colleagues have pointed out that many of the worlds leading investors and pension funds are exposed to huge potential losses.
Working from the carbon budgets produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Carbon Tracker have analysed the data around burnable carbon and how that translates into what is being termed the carbon bubble. The implications are existential for the oil, coal and gas industries, but they could also prove fatal for the global economy as we witness demand destruction in the wake of emerging cheaper cleaner energy sources.
Such ambitions of rapid transition are already being threatened by the incoming Trump administration as Trump makes noises about abandoning the Paris Agreement in order to give polluters a free license. Of course Trump can hinder but not halt the long-term trend of a transition to a clean energy system. The rise of new technologies that bring down the cost of energy production and delivery mean that fossil fuels are increasingly becoming a very bad financial investment choice. However, Trump can seriously delay the speed of the transition, endangering billions of lives and as Anthony said at COP22: “It is not a case of are we transitioning? It’s a case of how fast? And will we do it in time?”
What this highlights is the role that businesses and investors can play in accelerating change. Wealth and pension funds need regulatory and subsidy support from governments but they can also send their own signals back to policymakers, and be heard.
Building a better future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, requires that all of us are involved. Whether it comes to how we justify or calculate the impact of our actions (or inactions), it is worth listening to our third speaker, Professor Kevin Anderson. Professor Anderson is sometimes seen as the bearer of uncomfortable truths in highlighting the huge contribution to climate change that the top ten percent of society are making.
Again, using the findings of the IPCC, Kevin sets out a mathematically calculated pathway by which we could possibly stop the global mean temperature rising over 2ºC. Considering 1.5ºC is known to be extremely severe in terms of climate impacts on many regions of the world, 2ºC will likely create substantial sea-level rise and dangerous impacts to global agriculture, water scarcity and the natural world.
Talking to CCLS co-founder, Dr Hugh Hunt, Kevin stated:
“I think the first thing we must do is have a very clear sense of the scale of the challenge and what happens if we do not succeed. We have to be very clear about that. If we fail in dealing with this enormous challenge, the implications for the poorer people in the world who live in climatically vulnerable zones, and, increasingly of course, for our own children, and indeed, people like myself, I expect to be here for the next thirty or forty years, I will suffer the impacts from the carbon dioxide emissions that I myself am still putting into the atmosphere. That is what it is important to get across: if we fail, the implications are dire.”
4. Civil society (you and me)
In the course of our initial discussions at COP22 in Marrakech, we found ourselves in a press conference given by international youth delegates taking action on climate change (YOUNGO). What impressed us was the display of remarkable courage in demanding to be part of the conversation that will define their generation’s future. In response we have endeavoured to make young peoples voices heard in our communications through the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series.
On the forth consecutive Thursday after the lectures, we are bringing together our three speakers as well as Lord Martin Rees and a young person to represent both the voice of the next generation and civil society. The session will be chaired by Oliver Morton, features editor at The Economist.
This last session will be the sum of the parts and allow us to see how the political, financial, scientific and societal elements all come together.
Time to act
The political climate as well as the Earth’s climate now urgently require our attention. In taking the intuitive now, we can inform ourselves of what needs to be done to bring about a better world that we and our children will want to thrive in.
The Cambridge Climate Lecture Series beings on Thursday 23rd February at 19:30 GMT and will be live streamed across the internet. To stay up to date visit http://climateseries.com or follow us on any of the following social media channels: