On the heels of this week’s IPCC climate change report, Findhorn Fellow, Paul Allen, addresses the big question, ‘What will it take for us to find the will to change?’ The IPCC report findings are grim; however, as Paul explains, “we now physically have everything we need to transform our energy and living systems. Once a cultural shift is catalysed, legal and political frameworks quickly follow suit.” And not only that, Paul contends that “once we are equipped with the right tools, the way ahead can be a wonderful and exciting journey.”
Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in the message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.
This week the United Nations has released the most important assessment of global warming yet and warns carbon emissions must be cut sharply and quickly. The report also makes it clear that rather than falling, carbon emissions, mainly from burning coal, oil and gas, are currently rising to new record levels. It is the first IPCC report since 2007 to bring together all aspects of tackling climate change and for the first time states that carbon emissions will ultimately have to fall to zero; and that global poverty can only be reduced by halting global warming.
However the report also makes it crystal clear that the solutions are both available and affordable and that quick, decisive action would build a better and sustainable future, while inaction would be more costly.
We have the means to limit climate change. The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change.
For me, a core tenet of ‘a new story that serves’ is finding that ‘will to change’. It is about actually facing up to the changes needed to bring the impacts of our western excesses down to our fair share – so we can look our brothers and sisters from across the globe in the eye and genuinely say we are playing our part. At the same time the majority world is supported in generating their own future plans, far more rooted in their own wisdom that in western consumerism.
Air flights, cars, high meat diets, conspicuous consumption and designer obsolescence are powerful addictive social norms. Underpinned by abundant cheap fossil fuels they have taken a firm, yet sub-conscious hold on contemporary society, making it hard to question all that underpins them. Personally, I feel it is vitally important we walk our talk, in order to map the terrain. For example I am uncomfortable about polluting travel impacts or exploitative materials in i-phones and tablets, and feel excited about making better choices and making stuff last; whilst also ‘on mass’ demanding better from the supply chain, just as those who went before us refused sugar that had come from slave farms or closed accounts with banks supporting racist regimes in South Africa. This is why I rejoice in my very old Nokia phone (which still works very well for calling people), this is why I have never owned a car, and this is why I took the train to Findhorn’s New Story Summit. But this is not a matter of moralising or inflicting guilt. We all awake to find ourselves having been deliberately, unwillingly compelled to knowingly place a burden on the earth, those in other places and those in future times. Once awake we must act. I feel deeply sad for those still compelled to do this un-knowingly, but even more so for those who continue to do it knowingly.
As more and more of us piece together this alarming big picture, this collective human violation of our planetary life-support system becomes one of the deepest and most pervasive sources of anxiety in our time. Yet in the industrialised west, society has created taboos against the public expression of such emotion and anguish; so we simply put the “need to change” away in that locker, just out of our conscious thought, where smokers keep the knowledge about lung cancer while they get on with the immediate challenges of the day. We do know we must change, we just can’t admit that we know. How is it possible, when presented with overwhelming scientific evidence by the UN’s IPCC, even the evidence of our own eyes, that we can deliberately ignore something – while being entirely aware that this is what we are doing? These questions are explored very well in George Marshall’s new book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change. You can find more at climateconviction.org.
But the vital thing to remember is that once we are equipped with the right tools, the way ahead can be a wonderful and exciting journey. From my perspective, a key part of this journey is a joyous re-exploration of the inner path, spending much more time with community and spending quality time in nature – all directly replacing time spent on conspicuous consumerism. Creative practice has shown how we can break through prejudice, apathy and blind spots to catalyse a transformation of culture, attitudes and behaviours. Over just a few decades, our creativity has improved the lives of millions. It has helped to radically transform entrenched attitudes to gender, race, religion, class, employment law, exploitation and equity. Once a cultural shift is catalysed, legal and political frameworks quickly follow suit.
Scenarios such as ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ or those from ‘The Solutions Project’ in the USA clearly show we now physically have everything we need to transform our energy and living systems. This multiplied by our creativity can catalyse a cultural shift – and we know from our history that once triggered these can happen quite quickly. Integrating our art, spirit and science has the power to bring the not-yet-existent new maps to life, so we can create new spaces, both real and virtual, where inspiration, optimism and the possibility of positive change can be nurtured and explored. Perhaps glimpsing the next chapter in the extraordinary story of human beings and energy dappled here in the present.
Once such a culture shift could be achieved, wars over dwindling fossil-fuel reserves could be avoided, millions of global jobs created, economies stimulated and climate chaos avoided; but equally importantly, a sense of collective purpose, adventure and excitement about the future – not seen for a generation or more – could be re-generated. Perhaps the prelude to a very new story indeed. What I have described is not the sum total of the new story by any means, but at least if we got this part anywhere near on track, then perhaps we would be a lot nearer to revealing the rest of it.
Paul Allen (electrical engineer & musician)
Project leader Zero Carbon Britain