The New York Times senior columnist Jack Krugman recently wrote: ‘I have seen the future, and it won’t work’. On our present trajectory his observation is chillingly accurate, as was recently confirmed in an MIT review of more than 10 different future scenarios, including those from the IPCC and Royal Dutch Shell. Of those, the MIT study concluded that Shell’s ‘Blueprints’ scenario resulted in the lowest realistically achievable CO2 emissions levels, because it was based on the implementation of advanced technologies and energy efficiency initiatives, and involved a highly effective collaboration between government, industry, international institutions, NGOs and academia. Even then, CO2 levels would stabilize at around 650ppm…yet 450ppm is currently accepted as the viable maximum.
We now understand that at this level various serious trigger points and feedback loops start operating. Not least of these is the acidification of the oceans, causing them to become a net emitter of CO2 rather than a sink. These increasing CO2 levels then feed back into higher temperatures, accelerating both ice melt at the poles and the melting of tundra ice with its consequent release of methane.
It is now clear that technology alone will not ensure our survival. Much more needs to be done. The Blueprints scenario gives us a five-year window. We must act now! In line with Einstein’s observation that ‘No problem can be resolved at the same level of awareness that created it’, it follows that only a world class ‘lifestyle behaviour change’ programme will overcome the challenge humanity is facing. It is highly probable that the biggest obstacle posed by the question we are here to address is the lack of public engagement and real commitment to carbon reduction. A major lifestyle behaviour change programme is the only vehicle that could take us through this next challenging period with a realistic prospect of minimizing its impacts.
I have been engaged with this subject for many years and helped create the Global Action Plan Initiative 20 years ago – when there were no real drivers for change or apparent urgency, and we still reached 22 countries – as well as the more recent ‘Be the Change’ initiative.
There now is a clear and present urgency, and the UK is uniquely placed to take a global leadership role in a new initiative because climate change legislation is already in place, and corporations and local authorities will need to deliver the reductions required by law.
I will not go into specific detail here as to the content or logistics of such a lifestyle change delivery programme, but in outline:
- It is a community-based ‘bottom up’ process;
- Local authorities and corporations become an effective delivery mechanism for empowering and resourcing their communities and employees to create eco-neighbourhood community groups;
- These groups are imbued with the vision, role models, tools, implementation procedures, skill sets, and underpinning supportive structures to enable both visible and tangible success; and
- Each individual feels that their contribution has value and their drop is helping to ‘fill the bucket’.
Humanity is the result of five billion years of earth’s evolution. We will discover within the next five whether we are still a viable species. If we cannot engage behaviour change at this scale we will have failed the ‘intelligence test’ that evolution requires us to answer.
Now is the moment for us to be the change we wish to see in the world.
Lawrence Bloom, Chairman, World Economic Forum, Global Agenda Council on Urban Development, Davos