What will it take?

I spent a day this week at the Royal Geographical Society’s Forum of Environment and Society on Thursday. This years conference was entitled “A ‘Perfect Storm’ Ahead?”, using the term first coined by John Beddington, Cheif Scientific Advisor to the government, to describe the future we may be facing because of the changes to our climate. Back in 2009, he said:

“It is predicted that by 2030 the world will need to produce 50 per cent more food and energy, together with 30 per    cent more available fresh water, whilst mitigating and adapting to climate change. This threatens to create a ‘perfect storm’ of global events.”

The day look at the three key issues which will effect us all in our day to day lives, food, energy and water. It reminds me of what Michael Bryne said to me, back when I was at University. He said the climate will be at the centre of everything in the future. Our wars will be down to lack of food, lack of energy, worries about our own security in these areas. Whether this theory of his will become a reality, we will have to wait and see, but I do think it remains a very interesting area to study. So what can and should be done, and more importantly by who?

What really struck me about the conference came out form the final discussion group, made up of Mike Barry, Head of Sustainability at Marks and Spencer, and Rob Hopkins, Co-Founder of the Transition Town in Totnes, and the Transition Network, a localised community movement which work within the area to combat the impacts and causes of climate change. Two very different speakers, from very different sides of the spectrum, or so you would think, but there seemed to be an understanding and agreement between the two about the way we must move forward, which I found fascinating.

Both believed there had to be some kind of co-operation between the global approaches and the local approaches in order to make a change, that neither could really function without the other. As Mike Barry described, there is 10 per cent of the population who is involved in these groups, who are passionate, and active in their approach, and another 90 per cent that are yet to be convinced; convinced it is worth it, convinced they can really make the difference. But what will convince them? Well he believes it will be the businesses and the governments leading the way which will bring these people in.

“We are not going to be able to sustain society without dramatically more action on the local level, that’s where we must act…But equally the global system will not disappear either, and we’ve got enormous potential pointing in the right direction to help correct an unsustainable system.

“We all the know the system is unsustainable but we all also know the system must remain.”

And equally Rob Hopkins, pioneer in the local approach, who has written books entitled the Tranisition Handbook: From Oil Dependancy to Local Resillience and Local Food: How to Make it Happen in Your Community was quick to empahise that local doesn’t mean self sufficiency and isolation.

“When we talk about localisation what we’re not talking about, as sometimes it is portrayed, as the idea that we’re going to put the enormous chain-linked fence up around every settlement in this country, and not allow anything in or out and be completely self sufficient. What were talking about is certain things can be done really efficiently on a modelised scale.”

What he seemed passionate about is everyone investing in their future, being prepared for the changes that most now believe will have to happen. Yes communities can begin a food growing partnerships, yes they can generate their own electricity through micro-generation, yes they can use local food, local building materials and support one another moving forward, but this will not mean that the big changes no longer have to happen, that we no loner need national targets for carbon reduction, and global agreements for mitigation and adaptation, that big businesses can continue as they wish, as Mike Barry put it “making money by selling you stuff”.

This is something which came up across the day time and time again. Dr David Buffin from the Centre on Food Policy at City University said: “Getting urban communities involved in growing food and understanding what it is to grow food, they’re not going to replace rural agriculture but I think as a social cohesion, having a growing crop, it’s a useful process and maybe local businesses can get involved in that, you might call that Big Society, and that’s great.”


And Professor Mike Bradshaw, speaking on energy security said: “There’s a big debate about switching over from a centralised transmission to a decentralised transmission system, of course one of the problems is that you need to have back-up, and Chris Huhne talked about having clean coal and gas as the back-up.”

So, what for the future? I found this whole idea of both the global and the local working in partnership fascinating, and whether it can truly happen, whether the global will have to drive the local, or whether the local can put pressure on the global is something that will emerge with time, I think most people will still agree we are a very short way up a very long road, but it is definitely something to watch for.


Images from the Royal Geographical Society

Please note opinions in this article are mine alone and do not represent Climate Action as a group.

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