Why the Next 12 Years Could be the Making of Us
June 3, 2019
Here is an article I wrote for the latest edition of Reconnect magazine. I changed the title as I prefer my own one. I hope you enjoy it.
After two extraordinary weeks in which Extinction Rebellion brought London to a standstill, kids walked out of school to join the School Strike for Climate, Greta Thunberg dropped in to meet MPs and others, and David Attenborough’s ‘Climate Change: The Facts’ documentary went out on primetime TV, the UK parliament declared, the day before I’m writing this, a national climate emergency. As someone who has spent the last 15 years of my life ceaselessly speaking, blogging, campaigning and writing about climate change, and catalysing and supporting many projects and communities who are modelling innovative responses to it, I feel thrilled and delighted. But now what happens?
The point I want to make in this short piece is that the concept of a climate emergency should fill our hearts with great optimism and possibility. We have 11 years now to reverse the direction of travel, to cut our emissions in half, and be well on the path to zero emissions. It is an extraordinarily big ask, but it is possible. Just. And if we manage it, it will be a social, cultural, economic, political transformation which is almost without precedent. It will, by definition, be a time when anything felt possible, when the imagination feels invited, valued and empowered. What an amazing time to be 18. It will be a time that future generations will sing great songs about, and tell great tales about. Hold onto your seats for the most exhilarating time when old certainties fade away, and when anything feels possible.
I feel certain that what will get us there will be our ability, in our families, in our workplaces, in the groups we’re part of, to be the storytellers of what that world, a world of zero emissions, will look like, feel like, taste like, sound like. We need to tell the stories that create a deep longing for a future that looks very different to the present. A future of cleaner air, children playing in the street, cities with food growing everywhere, louder birdsong, thriving local economies, an age of connection, conversation and community, schools and hospitals fed by local food, a sense of collective purpose. A future of renewable energy, rewilded landscapes, imaginative and playful architecture. It’s going to be amazing. As Elliot Murphy wrote in his sleeve notes for ‘Velvet Underground Live 1969’, “I wish it was a hundred years from today (I can’t stand the suspense)”.
My sense is that we need to be brave enough to speak up for this, to celebrate it in whatever way, or whatever medium we can, rather than lapse back into defeatism and arguing that it’s not possible. After all, Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a dream. But it’s probably not going to happen, and it might cause a bit of disruption for commuters, and it might be a bit expensive, so perhaps we won’t bother”. Rather, this is a time to be clear and passionate about what happens next, and to weave those stories into whatever conversations we can.
The beautiful thing about the government and local authorities declaring a climate emergency is that very few of them have much of an idea as to what that means. The part of the UK covered by Reconnect has been at the forefront of modelling and experimenting as to what the creativity a climate emergency makes possible. Transition Town Totnes has inspired a movement in 50 countries, modelling bottom-up community-led solutions. Atmos Totnes is showing how the housing sector could be reimagined to provide affordable, ecological homes that meet local need. There is amazing work underway in Exeter and Plymouth around local food and community energy. Buckfastleigh are experimenting with new democratic models. South Brent has led the way on community wind power. There many more stories like this, and many people who should stand up and take a bow. You were right all along!
I was recently in France, and visited a town called Mouans-Sartoux, a town where all the food in the schools, primary and secondary, is 100% organic and 70% local, and the vegetables come from a farm created by the municipality on the edge of town. I was especially fascinated to hear, while we ate lunch in one of the schools, how it has changed behaviour in families in the school, where 60% of families say they now eat at least partly organic food, and 13% say they now always do, a big shift from before the scheme began. Never underestimate the power of culture change and bold leadership.
On a 7 hectare site the municipality purchased to prevent it being developed and turned into housing, a beautifully biodiverse site features polytunnels, fruit trees, and a school for food education, which teaches kids and adults about how food is grown and how to cook it. It was a delightful taste of what the climate emergency will look, feel, taste and sound like if we get it right. It was the future. It was common sense. And I can tell you, it smelt, tasted and looked absolutely fantastic.