2 Jan 2009

A ramble of hope for 2009

For me perhaps some of the most worrying news recently has been that scientists have now found the first unequivocal evidence that the Arctic region is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the world at least a decade before it was predicted to happen.

Photo: Last of the leeks in the garden

Climate-change researchers have found that air temperatures in the region are higher than would be normally expected during the autumn because the increased melting of the summer Arctic sea ice is accumulating heat in the ocean. The phenomenon, known as Arctic amplification, was not expected to be seen for at least another 10 or 15 years and the findings will further raise concerns that the Arctic has already passed the climatic tipping-point towards ice-free summers, beyond which it may not recover (see The Independent 16th Dec 2008 - and see cartoon re tipping points here).

Our politicians are failing to understand the implications of climate change......It was refreshing to hear Lib Dems talking about a New Green Deal but sadly looking at the detail it does not add up on paper to what is really needed - see local Green party letter here. In the EU matters were worse with them basically proposing a neocolonial approach to climate policy, which would allow rich European countries to continue their own unsustainable development model at the expense of developing countries - see another local Green party letter here.

You can read what George Monbiot said of the recent Government proposals here. If we are serious we need such radical proposals as he suggests like closing key streets to traffic, imposing 'stonking taxes on the extraction of all fossil fuels' and more.

At least news re Peak Oil is better - well better as it is now being properly recognised - last year we had the first industry report re Peak Oil (see here) - now the IEA report which has studied 800 major oil fields around the world has come up the a decline rate of 6.7% (up from 3.6% guestimate in their previous 2007 report). This is highly significant since UK government (and other peak deniers) base their official position on what the IEA says and they're now clearly saying "We are on an unsustainable energy path and need to shift fast!" - they're saying 2020 peak and Hirsch says we need at least 10 years preparations to avoid mega problems...
See Monbiot video here and article here.

Shockingly already 20% of Stroud District is in fuel poverty - now I read that only one in eight households in fuel poverty receives discounted gas and electricity bills, despite a multimillion-pound commitment by the main energy companies to help vulnerable people to endure the winter. This really is an area that needs the Government to wake up.

All this can lead one to feel a little like it is all futile - we are stuffed - but I really don't believe that is the case - there is lots to make us hopeful that we can rise to the challenges - here is a piece from Chris Johnson who writes The Great Turning Times:

I had a conversation with a friend not long ago when I told her the story of the Great Turning. I described how future generations might look back on our times as a crucial turning point in their history. Just when humanity seemed headed for disaster, we somehow found the courage, determination and inspired creativity to bring about a remarkable shift, a change of course, an epic transformation. As I told the tale, I felt my eyes sparkle; the energy of possibility sent tingles down my spine. But my friend wasn't so moved. "I can't see that happening", she said.

The process where a positive vision first grows, but then meets disbelief, may be familiar to you. It can happen within ourselves. It can happen within groups of friends. The process also gets played out within organisations, communities and our wider society. Over the last few decades, the hopeful visionary tendency has taken quite a bashing; on a societal level, disbelief has become the default mode. Yet recent events have powerfully shaken this up. If, two years ago, someone had proposed that the UK government would soon be nationalising banks or that Barack Obama would become the next president of the United States, they might well have met the "I can't see that happening" response.

In May 2006, in an article sympathetic to Obama, Time magazine commented: "The argument against an Obama candidacy is obvious: he is as green as Kermit the Frog. He is a mere 44 years old and has been a member of the U.S. Senate for less than two years. He sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but he has zero military and national-security experience. He's a very smart guy, a quick learner, but no one is that quick. If he runs and makes a fool of himself, a very promising political career could be suffocated in the crib."

A year later, a column in the Boston Globe implied Obama was a no-hoper, saying: "the people who've ponied up $4,600 for Obama in this election cycle might as well have piled the money on the kitchen table and set fire to it."

In April this year, a column from the UK Times expressed that same certainty, with a sub-headline proclaiming: "The Democrats must admit it: Obama would lose to McCain"

The point here is the "I can't see that happening" view can be wrong. Remembering that helps when we doubt our vision. As does reminding ourselves of times we've succeeded in doing things that previously we'd thought were impossible (can you can think of any for yourself?). These memories help anchor in us the deep knowledge that something seeming unlikely at one point in time can happen quite naturally at another. Rather than giving up if the odds don't seem promising, positive changes are brought about when we identify what we'd like to happen, and then become part of the story of making that so.

Chris Johnson helpfully points to the Work That Reconnects developed by Joanna Macy and colleagues. This was developed as a workshop methodology to cultivate empowered responses to global issues, the principles and insights of this approach can be applied in a wide range of settings, not just workshops. The central plot-line of this work follows a spiral of four elements: gratitude, honouring pain for the world, seeing with new eyes, and going forth. See more at:

Read Obama on climate change here. However while the US maybe coming around, Chris Johnson also quotes a BBC World Service Poll of 22,000 people in 21 countries that showed only 79% saw human activity as a significant cause of climate change, and only 65% believed it necessary to take major steps starting very soon. Astonishingly, a third of Tory MP's who replied to a survey in the UK questioned the existence of climate change and its link to human activity!! In a more recent poll in the UK 42% thought the problem might not be as bad as people say, and only 35% saw tackling climate change and reducing their carbon footprint as a normal thing for people to do in their area. There's clearly still a long way to go.

Chris Johnson suggests we need to help people join the dots between weather disturbances and climate change then perhaps they will be more likely to want to want to take action. Unfortunately, these links are often not made. For example, he carried out a Google news search for articles about Hurricane Ike on 13th September 2008. It showed 79,971 references in a week. When he added the words "climate change" to the search, the tally went down to just 72 (less than 0.1%).

In the US, after hurricane Katrina in 2005, a poll showed a majority (54%) saw the hurricane season that year as just one of those things that happens from time to time, vs 39% who viewed it as related to climate change. One of the issues here is about how we view cause and effect. One type of cause and effect is direct causation, where A causes B. But another, much more common, type of cause and effect is an indirect one, where A adds to a context that makes B more likely.

Scientists would find it difficult to say "Hurricane Katrina was caused by Climate Change". Yet there is strong research evidence that climate change adds to context that makes intense hurricanes more likely. So as Chris Johnson suggests it is about getting the message across that more extreme weather events will be likely - ask people if they think climate change is a factor if the weather is extreme or different from usual. Listen and if appropriate share your concerns. Voicing our concerns is a way we talk ourselves into addressing them. Visibly tackling climate change and reducing our carbon footprint strengthens the context that supports others to do this too - in a way that can feed a positive feedback loop of change. Go for it!

See Earth Spirit Action - a film about Deep Ecology here.


Sam Bond said...

Hi Philip,

Just wanted to say hello and congratulate you on your blog and its success. As part of Stroudie green diaspora (used to be chief reporter on the SNJ way back when - now in London editing a site that like to call itself 'Europe's biggest website for professional environmentalists') your blog makes me homesick and proud of Stroud in equal measures. I'm impressed that you manage to find the time to add a few words to your blog most days - mine's a rusty old thing that gets updated once a month if i'm lucky. anyway, keep up the good work and say hello to Jonny Marj from me!

Sam Bond, edie.net, stroud ex-pat

Philip Booth said...

Great to hear from you - and enjoyed a look at your blog:

We miss you at the SNJ! I will pass on greetings to John! Have a great 2009!

Philip Booth said...

Just came across this 10 reasons to be hopeful and 3 to be fearful: