Thursday, 19 November 2009

Age of Stupid - my talk following the screening 17 November 2009

I saw the Age of Stupid on 3 June this year, and as the credits started to roll at the end of the film, I slightly slumped back in my chair, feeling two things. First, I felt that once again, the problem had been set out, enormously clearly, but no solutions had been suggested. Secondly, and arising out of that, I felt utterly disempowered. Here was an enormous dilemma and I felt the burden of trying to sort it out, but without any idea where to start – or even, why it should be me who did take responsibility.

So, to deal with that issue – why should we take responsibility for a problem that might not be of our making, that is overwhelming and that people in high office are not taking ownership of?

The first point – whilst the majority of the scientific community now agrees that climate change is taking place, not everyone agrees that it is manmade. However, should that doubt stop humankind from taking action to avert the worse possible scenario? We obviously do not know what the future will bring, but the point is we need to plan for a range of possibilities, to give ourselves the widest number of survival options.

So if we don’t plan for the worst effects of climate change on the basis that ‘it might never happen’, and then it does, we’re stuffed, environmentally and economically. If on the other hand we do take measures, and it doesn’t happen, then we will, as a society, have spent a lot of money that could have been used elsewhere.

But we might have created jobs; become less of a disposable society; stopped filling up the earth with our waste; stopped chucking so much plastic in the sea that the plastic itself starts to break down and become a constituent of the sand and or great lumps of it choke marine animals; we might possibly have adjusted our system of values so that we respect limited resources and, as a bottom line, all in all won’t be as badly off as if we take no action and climate change blows up in our faces.

Secondly – why us? Why should we assume the burden of doing something?

Well really, it is a process of elimination. A large proportion of the world’s population is very poor, and people spend their time just surviving. They live hand to mouth, literally using all their time earning money for the next meal, and in that context, cannot prioritise something like working against climate change, or campaigning for their politicians to take action. Others live in totalitarian or repressive states which limit their freedom to take action, or it might simply bring them to the attention of the authorities, which may well be dangerous in itself.

So that cuts out a lot of people and really brings the job home to those in the west.

For a long time, I waited for our government to take a lead. I’m still waiting! Where is the legislation that imposes limits on supermarket packaging? What is happening to ensure that all new housing is built in a carbon neutral sustainable way? In short, where is the political will to turn this climate crisis around? In the end you have to conclude that those in power are long on rhetoric and short on action, and whatever happens at next year’s election, I don’t think that we can depend on that changing.

So that really leaves people like you and me. I’m afraid that I can’t really think of anyone else! Whatever our financial position, the majority of us are not in the situation where we spend every day working to survive and feed ourselves. This also gives us more time in our days to take action. Therefore, we have the time, education and the communication skills to do something about this. We can campaign by email, telephone, face to face – we are able to do something if we choose.

Do we have to do it now? Won’t this wait? Well, no, unfortunately not. The trouble is that there is a time lag between our actions and their impact. It seems that there is no immediacy in the need to deal with global warming – so we can ignore our lack of action today as the result won’t be apparent tomorrow, and conversely, if we do take steps now, we might not see the benefit for some time. But as the film showed, global warming is having an effect now, it is already disrupting nature and many people’s lives, and we need to act before this effect becomes ever more disruptive.

So what to do?

There are a myriad of things that you can do, and there are various suggestions on the blog that is mentioned on the card on your chair – I’m sure that you can all come up with many more. (

Our little group is looking at trying to find a way forward that will involve our community. If we wait for governments to take action, it will be too little, too late. If we take action as individuals, then very sadly, it may well be too little. But if we take action as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.

The model that we are looking at at the moment is Transition Towns. Let me briefly tell you something about Transition Towns.

Transition towns is a grass roots movement that is gathering pace across the country. It is based on 2 ideas – one, that global warming is out there, and we need to work, as communities, to reduce our carbon footprint. Incidentally, does anyone know how Chiltern district ranks in terms of our average carbon footprint per household?? We come fourth in the UK……

The second idea is that we are reaching, or have reached the point of peak oil production. This means that resources of oil that is easily obtainable are not being discovered as fast as our increasing consumption requires. So it is a simple supply and demand graph. Cheap oil is getting rarer, but our demand continues to increase. So there is going to be less of it, and what there is, is going to be much much more expensive. We are an oil dependent society, and therefore living without oil, or with less oil, is going to be an enormous change.

Towns in Transition looks at ways of reducing our impact on the environment, and also at ways in which we can change our community’s dependence on oil. If we can start to do this now, then if and when the oil does start to run out, we will at least be part of the way down the road to coping without it.

Things that we can do as a community might include – setting up a market of local produce, buying more locally, lobbying the local authority to provide more crossing points so that it was easier and safer to walk round the village, talking to the Chamber of Commerce about making our high street plastic bag free…even, we want to influence any large scale development in the village so that it is not built to too high a density, but is built with solar panelling, geothermal heating, and local materials. The sky is the limit – and what is great about such a scheme is that it isn’t the usual dull and anxious approach to climate change; on the contrary, it is empowering, it is positive, we will see progress. It is achievable.

Locally, Chesham, High Wycombe, Marlow, Tring, Berkhamsted and Watford are towns in transition. Amersham is thinking about it, and so are we. If all the settlements along the Misbourne valley were to join the movement, or something similar, that would be enormously measurable progress – the local authorities would see that people were really serious about this and take notice – and so our influence would start to work its way up in true grass roots fashion.

This is obviously a big scheme to pull off and we cannot do it without help! A couple of us are going on a course to learn more about it next weekend, and then we will decide whether to adopt this model or whether there are similar but different ones out there.

What else can you do? Sign up for 10:10 – this is a personal pledge to reduce your carbon emissions by 10% during 2010. So if you drive to work, one day in every 2 weeks, you would have either to get the train or work from home – Then, once you have signed up, get your workplace, your kids’ schools, your place of worship to join too.

Lobby Gordon Brown to reach agreement in Copenhagen – Obama has just come out and said that he doesn’t think that agreement will be reached in Copenhagen – we need to say that we passionately require politicians to put down their cappuccinos and get a meaningful deal signed.

Come on the march on December 5 – we’re all going and taking our kids, and you would be welcome to come with us.

Finally – talk about climate change. Bring it into the mainstream, try and heighten people’s awareness of the issue.

All the inventiveness and genius that has gone into the development of our society as it is today can be harnessed to move us through this current crisis. This issue might be a burden, but it is also a challenge and an enormous opportunity for positive change.

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