Earth Day 2020 – and the unique power of liminal spaces

Earth Day 2020 – and the unique power of liminal spaces

I don’t know about you, but I felt a profound sense of sadness last week when I learned that Wednesday 22nd April 2020 would be the 50th time that Earth Day has been celebrated. We cannot turn the clock back, but it is tempting nevertheless to imagine how a message might read from all of us today back to the original visionaries and activists who instigated Earth Day.

We have to accept that despite the best efforts of scientists, campaigners and change makers everywhere, the sustainability movement has failed to prevent a climate crisis or the relentless destruction of nature.

Yet my momentary sense of loss and nostalgia for what could have been quickly turned to a different realisation; that we now sit in a unique moment of opportunity. Historians will no doubt be prolific in their assessment of 2020 and the tragedy of the pandemic. We already knew that the 2020s would be a make-or-break decade; will the future look back on our present and talk about the pre-Covid and the post-Covid era?

If we zoom out even further and look at ourselves in a geological timeframe, we realise (as Johan Rockstrom points out) that “in the last 50 years we tipped from 10,000 years in the Holocene to the Anthropocene; what we do in the next 50 years will determine what happens in the next 10,000 years.”

A liminal space is an in between place, a borderland between one world and another. In certain cultures, they are seen as powerful, sacred places, a space where ideas grow; they are both fraught with danger and ripe with possibility. That’s where we are today, witnessing the transition from an established yet imperfect order towards the birth of a fragile new one.

With growing choruses of new normals, of green new deals and of “building back better,” let’s take a moment to appreciate the value, power and creative opportunity of liminal spaces. For better and for worse, change is afoot. Those of us who have campaigned for radical change for so long cannot afford to be wrong-footed now that radical change is thrust upon us. Now is a time for courage, and for all of us to re-double our work together to create the future we all want, and to restore the health of the one interconnected Earth upon which we all depend.

A Silver Lining to a No Deal?

A Silver Lining to a No Deal?

For the avoidance of any doubt, I voted remain, and I am strongly opposed to a no deal Brexit. However, as an environmentalist, I am beginning to think that there may yet be something positive to come from all this. I realise I may be clutching at straws, but bear with me…..

In 2006, the economist Nicholas Stern argued that tackling the climate crisis would require an annual investment equivalent to 1% of global GDP, with the overall costs increasing for every further year of delay. In doing so, he deliberately framed the climate debate firmly in the language of business and economists, in the hope that the prospects of improved returns on investment would galvanise decision-makers into action.

As we all now know, the scale of the problem has increased markedly since then, rather than reducing. Medium term gains never seem to win out over short-term ones, and the investment proposal made to the world by Nick Stern was not adopted to any meaningful extent. At the same time, the chorus of voices highlighting the inadequacy of GDP as a measure of success has grown louder, from Tim Jackson’s “Prosperity Without Growth” and David Pilling’s “The Growth Delusion” to David Cameron’s attempts to introduce a new measure of national wellbeing.

In the long-run of course, there is no choice to be made between economy and ecology. Every aspect of industry, society and human endeavour is in effect a wholly-owned subsidiary of the biosphere; without the benefit of life-giving ecosystems around us, we would not even have oxygen in our lungs, let alone another point or two of GDP. Yet despite the tireless efforts of certain groups and individuals, the hegemony of short-term economic gain as measured by GDP has remained dominant. Whatever the issue or debate in public life, short-term economic growth has always won out in the end over every other consideration. Elections around the western world have tended to be won by those who best understood the eternal truth that “it’s the economy, stupid.”

Could this be about to change?

While I’m not going to add to the predictions of how a no-deal Brexit would pan out (if indeed it happens at all), there seems little serious room for doubt now that it would come at a cost to short-term economic growth and prosperity. And yet the current Government clearly believes that a self-inflicted dip in GDP is a price worth paying, and an outcome that a sufficient proportion of the population will support.

So here’s my silver lining; if we have to leave with no deal, at least we will have demonstrated to ourselves, whether willingly or not, that sometimes the economy’s immediate prospects have to come second to longer-term considerations. Fortress GDP will have been breached by a bigger argument. If we are going to do that in the name of Brexit, might we then be better able to do the same thing again for the much more fundamental goal of transitioning to a low-carbon, one-planet future?

Blog by Stephen Farrant