Recently I attended a symposium on the circumstances revolving around the IPCC consensus on what the world’s goals should be regarding Ghg’s and their dire politicisation. While it is necessary that we understand the situation, I find that the political side, at least in Sweden, takes over most of the public discussion space. The symposium’s hosts, the Centre for Sustainable Development at Uppsala University, of course see beyond this. But we are focussing a lot through 2015 on the big talks this December in Paris, and less on where we can make impact. I was relieved to find that during the Q&A session, many audience members shifted the conversation from the politicisation of the 2° Celsius goal to what we can do in actuality.
An audience member, Per Ribbing, challenged a climate-scientist/panel-member that, in order to change the global structures, we first need to present successful solutions or models to the politicians. He gave one example of changing yourself by investing green, one audience member talked about city level transition and another about carbon capture and storage. Here there was talk of solutions – ‘what’ needs to be done. One important point was missing.
Both the problems of climate change and the problems we face in solving it are big in global discussion. (I must point out that, while this takes up a significant amount of attention, the worst of the problems are not clearly presented to the public – which perhaps is just as well. The public wouldn’t react well, if at all, without solutions being presented to them as well). There has also been significant focus on the practical solutions – e.g. investing green, community windfarms, e-cars, consuming less, etc. What there has been little or no focus on, at local and global levels, is the ‘how’ we actually solve the problems – yet it is the most fundamental. The general public are becoming more aware that there are things we can or should do to prevent the obscure image of climate change from prevailing – or at least adapting to it. If they are not too skeptical, they will only go so far as to conclude that the likelihood of all these ‘solutions’ being adopted by people or put in place by governments, is slim. Question: If that is your ‘expert’ conclusion, why not try to figure out a solution? Answer: Cognitive dissonance.
Of course the whole world is in disarray on the subject of climate change (as well as: mass extinction & biodiversity loss; ecosystem service tipping points; natural resource depletion, competition & mismanagement; the growing, urbanising, migrating and aging populations of the world; resulting spread of disease, food shortages, increasing conflicts, loss of education and cultural values & potential collapse of civilisation; etc.). What we are missing from the forefront of global sustainability discussions is the ‘how’.
The Heart & Brains of a Paradigm Shift
If you look throughout history, did any mass social movement or revolution that reached any amount of success manage to do so without the key ingredients – ‘Solidarity’ & ‘Strategy’? People had to be supportive of each other – the heart – and they had to so in a well organised manner – the brain.
I network quite regularly with passionate students, activists and Sustainability professionals. You see, I consider these people to be ‘world leaders’, as they are among the few who see which way the world is going and wish to do something about it. If these people aren’t going to solve the world’s problems, who will? While many of them believe there are possible ways for us to achieve a sustainable future, they lack the sense of necessity to support each other in coming up with ambitious solutions. People have studies to complete, jobs to apply for, homes to move into, families to run & cars to buy. All the while, it is very important to balance work with play. So my suggestion is that we turn any ‘extra’ activity, in sustainable development, into play. This is where the brains come in to meet the heart.
For me, any activity in sustainable development is a struggle. There is no money, no time, no people and no place to go. When there is people, their schedules do not cross. Look at these fundamental resources: Time, money, people & place. If we had all these things, doing sustainability would be fun. There are people out there who really want to give their time but they have bills to pay. There are those who can afford it but are simply too busy, whether in social activity, work or eco-activism. (These people are most valued in what I am suggesting here). While it is difficult to cross people’s schedules, it is more difficult for them to converge without a central location or HQ. In the past, whether the black movement, the feminist movement or a revolution of social classes, pioneers would have secret meetings at different locations. Keeping track of this proved their commitments to the cause. These days we do not need to hide any more. We can do everything in the open. These days we are richer than ever, yet have less time to use these assets. Our ancestors fought for us to reach this point. Now that we possess this luxury, we turn away from it. To those who want to act fully on climate change, the world needs to offer the money, so that people have the time, and offer the place, so people can openly work on it. Those of us who are as committed as any past revolutionaries, shall propose this to the world so that all the right resources become available to us. From there, we can put in all the heart & brains we desire. Imagine what that could do.
A lot of sustainability folk respond to me by saying that they do not believe in being too ambitious or “artificial” in our actions, that sustainability will and must come about “naturally” or organically – that we should let people do things on their own when the time is right. And that is exactly why we need to use our hearts and brains. I mean, define natural! Is it unnatural to act, as best as one can (strategically in solidarity)?