Hope in Hell

I am standing on the steps of Knutsford’s new civic centre. It is ten minutes to eight in the evening, in the mid 1990s. I peer anxiously at the traffic coming from the south, the direction of the railway station at Crewe. Where is he? His lecture was due to begin at half past seven. There is a full house of nearly 200 people waiting. Each of our organising committee for these ‘Knutsford Lectures’ on ‘Visions of a New Renaissance’ is quietly panicking. How long should we wait?

A taxi appears. Thank God, it appears to contain well known environmentalist and former Green Party Leader Jonathon Porritt. He sweeps into the building without a concern; the train was delayed. He’s ready to go on immediately. Panic over!

I don’t recall much of what Jonathon said that evening, but I do recall that it was well received, and he made a major theme of people ‘dancing in the streets’, with a social healing as well as an environmental healing as part of his New Renaissance vision.

All this was very much brought to mind as I recently tuned in to catch up on a Zoom talk recently given by Jonathon in a series organised by the Scientific & Medical Network, chaired by the indefatigable David Lorimer. Unsurprisingly looking somewhat older, Jonathon was speaking on the ideas in his latest book Hope in Hell.

It was interesting to hear Jonathon’s reflections on events over his lifetime and the current world situation. I picked out just a few key points, many of which have appeared in various guises on this blog over the years:

  • At one time UK was a leader in addressing climate change, not now.
  • It is good that UK was the first country to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, but current actions do not match this ambition, e.g. far more spent on HS2 than on a green revolution. This is a sort of institutional mendacity.
  • There is a huge gap between what the science says on climate and the institutional response (c.f. covid situation where the gap is relatively small), despite its being an existential threat to humanity. The current incrementalism is not an adequate response.
  • The dominant ideology of indefinite economic growth prevents effective action on climate. Only the Green Party has challenged this dogma over the last 50 years.
  • The other key driver of climate change is population. Because of historic situations it is impossible to have a sensible conversation on this subject.
  • There have been decades of visionaries and good works that have not fundamentally changed the direction of travel. The problem is political and the answers will only come by telling the truth about climate and effectively challenging politicians to do better – active political engagement for those who can. The establishment may not like it, but Extinction Rebellion did achieve political change.
  • At heart, what is needed is a change from self-based thinking to humanitarian-based thinking, from head only to head and heart. [Rather contradicts the previous point – the problem is not just political, but lies in all of us.]

Jonathon is substantially right, and was right in the 1990s.

This and many other issues related to a New Renaissance are covered by the wide ranging activities of SciMed, which has embraced the Zoom age with impressive energy. It is well worth joining if you want to become more informed. They even now publish a regular newletter entitled Towards a New Renaissance.

Humanity’s Endgame, or New Beginning?

I was struck by the juxtaposition of two book reviews in the recent edition of Paradigm Explorer – magazine of the Scientific and Medical Network.

uninhabitable earthFirst, David Lorimer reviews The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells, a book that suggests that our institutions and leaders are simply not up to the task of addressing the challenges of climate breakdown. Humanity is basically not an intelligent species en masse and will go down the pan.

planet remadeThis is followed by Paul Kieniewicz’s review of The Planet Remade – How Geoengineering Could Change the World, by Oliver Morton. This sort of accepts the premise of the previous book, except suggests that humanity will increasingly resort to geoengineering to try to alleviate the resulting problems. Of course, geoengineering is a largely unknown, untested and inherently unpredictable.

At the end of the day, neither of these mindsets seems likely to do more than scare us, which is perhaps what is needed, in addition to the positive work being done by Extinction Rebellion and many others.

The problem is enormous, almost beyond comprehension, and involves every living person. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. If the majority of people did their little bit every day, always making the carbon-reducing, climate stabilising, non-polluting choices – so that individuals, communities, businesses, corporations, towns and cities, regions, national governments, international institutions were all moving in the same direction, we would soon realise that we were solving the problem.

We just have to give up caring about money more than people and nature, and about power and fighting more than peace and cooperation. Nothing less than total transformation of our politics and economics!

When did this ever happen before? Well, after WW2 there was a recognition of the need for change and the establishment of institutions to improve cooperation (UN, EU) and reduce the chance of wars, and to establish improved living standards for peoples. The game of sovereignty and ‘interests’ of nation states and powerful individuals has since undermined all this. It has to stop, or the ‘interests’ of the big boys will destroy us all.