Do we know the price of everything and the value of nothing?

Do we know the price of everything and the value of nothing?

Oscar Wilde’s quip about a cynic makes me wonder if we are all in danger of becoming cynical in our lifestyle choices and their impact on the natural environment – perhaps putting short term economic gain above understanding the longer-term value (aka “ecosystem services”) of our natural habitats and species?  When we buy our latest gadget at the lowest price on Amazon do we factor in the real environmental and social cost associated with the impact of producing, shipping, using and disposing of that gadget?

 I recently drew a simple sketch in response to a daily Facebook “Sketchbook Challenge”[i] prompt (the subject was “Supermarkets”).  My line of tree trunks reminded me of the ubiquitous bar code used by stores to price up goods.  (Maybe “bark code” might be more accurate in the context?).  A fellow sketcher in Australia responded “Your “bark code” is a great thought. The tree image brings to mind our post bushfire scenes in Australia. What price are we paying?…. In their distress, Australians have been hugely moved by the care and concern from other countries. And many of us hope it translates into far deeper global action”.

 As the need for urgent action to tackle major issues such as climate change and resource depletion, we all need to shake of our cynicism and make better buying decisions based on the true cost of what we buy.  Perhaps the time has come for us to “bark code” all our forests, mountains, streams, rivers and oceans?

 

[i] http://www.magenta-sky.com/online-courses/30-day-sketchbook-challenge/

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Standing up for Snowflakes

Standing up for Snowflakes

As we enter a new decade is it time to ditch the expression ‘Snowflake Generation’ – young adults of the 2010s who are accused of being hypersensitive and prone to take offence too easily? Our so called ‘Snowflakes’ are open to easy jibes at their phone addiction, their predilection to eat Avo on Toast and Instagram the experience, accusations they live a virtual life on social media and not an actual one. All too often these young people have been the butt of jokes from us oldies, the baby boomer and 60’s generation who have a tendency to fall into their own stereotypes of ‘you don’t know how lucky you are’ type comments.

As a parent of two ‘snowflakes’ I think it’s time for a bit of a rethink from those of us the other side of 50. Young people today are far worse off than we were at their age. We left higher education with no millstone of fee debt around our necks, free to walk into one job one day and out of it to another the next as the whim took us. Free to make our mistakes – fashion, romance, food – in relative obscurity without someone sticking it on Facebook or twitter.

Snowflakes I would argue are hypersensitive they are anxious and it seems their anxiety is justified. Data from Children and Adolescent Mental Health services (CAMHs) shows a spike in the number of young people suffering from mental ill health. There has been a sharp rise, up 37%, in young people admitted to hospital with eating disorders this year and alarmingly 12 deaths in the last 7 years. Eco-Anxiety is a reality for many and a growing sense of worry about the world and its’ future keeps many awake at night as well as propelling them onto the streets.

One of my campaigns for 2020 is to reclaim the Snowflake label – not write off young adults as over sensitive delicate young plants, but respect and understand the anxieties they carry. Real snowflakes are miracles of nature, each one unique in its form and structure, needing careful handling but we miss so much if we fail to observe their innate beauty and specialness. The same is true of our young adults- let’s stand up for Snowflakes and celebrate them instead of writing them off.

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Who are you influencing?

Who are you influencing?

In Mind in Society, his seminal book on learning and thinking, the Russian philosopher and psychologist Lev Vygotsky said this: ‘human learning presupposes a specific social process by which children grow into the intellectual life of those around them’ (Vygotsky 1978, p. 88). I was reminded of this last month listening to the great (I think we can say ‘great’) polar explorer Pen Hadow as he listed the achievements of those who had influenced and inspired him to live his life of exploration and enquiry.

He opened his talk by reminding us of the scientific import of the expedition to Antartica led by Captain Robert Scott in 1910-1913. This was news to me. The story I had grown up on was of Scott’s ‘great British failure’, albeit heroic. But Pen Hadow was at pains to emphasise that Scott viewed science as the primary reason for the expedition. In his mind the race to the Pole was of secondary importance. I certainly did not know that Scott and his team collected 2000 specimens, 400 of which were new to science. This comprised some 35 kilos of plant fossils, which included evidence, for the first time, that beech trees had once grown in Antarctica, meaning its climate had once been considerably warmer.

Showing us the diary that Scott kept on the expedition was a moving experience. Emaciated and hypothermic, with his fellow explorers lying dead in the tent next to him, Scott knew his time was up. He also knew, without satellite phones or radio, that the only means of leaving a message to the family he had left behind was to write it in the diary he hoped others would one day find. Thinking of his son Peter, his dying words urged to ‘make the boy interested in the natural world …’

That boy, brought up by his nanny, one Enid Wigley, went on to establish the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge in 1946 and found the World Wide Fund for Nature. Brought up by Wigley in a deliberately spartan regime, Peter Scott was to spend the majority of his time as a child out of doors, with as little clothing as possible, to toughen him up to the cold. A brilliant communicator in adult life, he was instrumental in setting up the BBC’s Natural History unit in Bristol, just down the road from Slimbridge. His successor? David Attenborough.

But it was Enid Wigley who fascinated me the most. Pen was the last of her charges. He grew up under the same spartan regime laid down by Captain and Peter Scott before him, listening to stories of their deeds. He remains the only person to make a solo journey from Canada to the North Pole, a feat he completed having spent 15 years on the sea ice of the Arctic ocean. Without a hint of immodesty, he claims to have spent more time there than anyone else. I like to think he could not have made these achievements without these important influences guiding him on.

It is not given to all of us to become Polar explorers. But we can influence the people around us. We don’t have to become Pen Hadow. But we could be an Enid Wigley, who, it turns out, was one of the great environmental influencers. It might be the most important thing we do. Who are you influencing?

First published at https://www.tonbridgetalks.com/blog

With thanks to Amanda Carpenter and Tonbridge School

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Civilised Rebellion

Civilised Rebellion

 Perhaps it can teach our parliamentarians a thing or two

“Humbug”, “Big Girls Blouse”, “Girly Swot”, “nose ringed crusties” just a sprinkling of some of the phrases our Prime Minister has cast about in recent weeks, seemingly oblivious to the inappropriateness and offensive nature of his language. In fact he revels in this carefully cultivated, boyish ‘devil may care’ look at me I am so outrageous but don’t you love me for it personae – and make no mistake it is a cultivated and it is entirely manufactured for the benefit of his audience and the press. What is not manufactured is the damage that such language does. Insults thrown across the chamber or the airwaves designed to undermine or wound the recipients and to stoke the growing sense of injustice in the rightwing elements of his party and the country. Sadly he is not alone when it comes to insult and injury – our MPs shout, barrack, insult, interrupt and behave in a way that would see most children and teenagers sent out of class or to their rooms!

But rather than just join the list of those moaning about this appalling behaviour I should like to suggest a remedy. I had the pleasure of joining my first Extinction Rebellion Citizens Assembly this week in, of all places, the Jubilee Room in the Houses of Parliament. It was an incongruous event in some ways – as we crowded in, surrounded by heavy replica Pugin wallpaper and at the mercy of division bells and wobbly IT – the XR rebels came from all walks of life  junior doctors, ex policemen, consultant psychiatrists, teachers, economists, students, CEOs, business men and women and not a crustie in sight!  We heard from Caroline Lucas MP and Clive Lewis MP, architects of the Green New Deal, from housing specialists, those responsible for city planning, health professionals and from a farmer (without his tractor sadly as the police prevented him from bringing it into the centre of London). Not only were they measured, informed and respectful they were listened to with respect and in silence. New to me is the XR method of no clapping but showing appreciation by jazz hands. Despite being in Parliament we needed no Speaker calling Order Order at ever greater decibels – the facilitator merely raised her hand when she needed silence and one by one we did the same and stopped our conversations. When we gathered into huddles to produce questions for the Department of Health, for Treasury, for DEFRA there was no interrupting, no jockeying for position. A raised finger was all it took to take a turn to speak and we listened carefully to one another – ‘hugging them with our full attention’.

The care, the consideration and the energy of the gathering reminded me of a Quaker Meeting. What was also extraordinary is how effective we were – producing three hard hitting questions for each department in less than 20 minutes from 60 strangers. Citizens Assemblies are the way to heal the divisions in our society, listening to one another and being respectful.

The XR rebels could certainly teach our parliamentarians a thing or two. Rebellion is the way to respect.

Hear XR in conversation with Planet Pod about their new Parliamentary Bill and the 3 demands here.

 

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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

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Fight or Flight?

Fight or Flight?

When someone like Professor Sir David King says he’s scared by the number of extreme weather events we are seeing – far more and with greater frequency than the climate scientist authors of the Fourth IPCC Report predicted in 2014 – we should all listen. In fact, we should all be scared. Scared enough to realise that the time for meaningful action to tackle climate change is now – before it really is too late. Speaking to the BBC, Professor King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, said: “It’s appropriate to be scared. We predicted temperatures would rise, but we didn’t foresee these sorts of extreme events we’re getting so soon.”

There is an understandable concern about growing “eco anxiety” amongst teenagers – the first generation which is likely to be really seriously affected by the impacts of climate change and yet who may not be in a position to make the real changes needed to arrest catastrophic global warming – in the law, in industrial processes, in sustainable energy supplies, in less resource intensive “stuff”. The UN’s weather chief Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), has said that using words like “scared” could make young people depressed and anxious. He says that scientists should “stick to the facts, which are quite convincing and dramatic enough. We should avoid interpreting them too much”.

In response, Professor Jo Haigh – until very recently Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College London and co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment – says: “David King is right to be scared – I’m scared too….We do the analysis, we think what’s going to happen, then publish in a very scientific way…Then we have a human response to that… and it is scary.”

One of the guests in our latest Planet Pod podcast was Henry Scott, a youth climate striker and a member of UK Student Climate Network – a group of mostly under 18s taking to the streets to protest the government’s lack of action on the Climate Crisis. They are instrumental in mobilising unprecedented numbers of students to create a strong movement and send a message that young people are tired of being ignored. Their message: “Standing Up for Our Climate Until Our Leaders Take Action”. A manifestation of this was the Climate Strikes on Friday 20 Sept which saw millions of people – young and old – around the world take to the streets in protest. Henry is young, intelligent and articulate. He is also scared for the future – not just his and his friends’ future, but the future for all of us on the planet. But he also amazingly positive and has taken the time and trouble to think about what changes he thinks are necessary to pull us out of this climate emergency. Far from being driven to despair by the science and its implications, Henry has been spurred by this to take a stand, to make a noise, to say to those who can – let’s make a difference now before it’s too late.

Being scared spurs us to action – to “Fight or Flight”. Let’s all join Henry and his young colleagues by fighting for the climate.

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