John Ashton’s Full Speech in Copenhagen

A couple of short thoughts before I get on my bike on Saturday and start pedalling (with a bit of interim help from CrossCountry Trains) from Hexham to Inverness, for a week at the Findhorn Foundation contemplating the current spring awakening. (I may well blog along the way – keeps the mind safely occupied over those cool evening end-of-slog beers…)

First, as mentioned lower down in this blog, John Ashton, senior adviser on climate change to Foreign Secretary David Miliband, has written what’s in my view one of the most powerful current messages on the urgency of a radical political awakening on the environment, and on the importance of science stating its message much more clearly. On Surviving the Collision. It’s short, cogent, and WELL worth reading in full.


Second, I don’t know if you noticed, but in today’s Guardian, a report on Lord Stern’s warnings against building a new coal generating station at Kingsnorth makes an interesting choice of information sequence.

At the top, the lead is on how the government should, in Lord Stern’s view, halt the Kingsnorth planning process until carbon capture technology is sorted out. Fair enough. Read on, and the details unfold, until you reach the very final paragraph of this news report, quoting Stern as calling for carbon emissions to be reduced as soon and as fast as possible, since we should in his words otherwise expect a 5 degree rise in temperatures above pre-industrial levels.

“We haven’t seen temperatures like that for 30 million years,” Lord Stern continues. “We’ve got to understand the magnitude of the risks we face. It will transform where we live. Some places will be deserts, others will be racked by storms. It will involve the likely movement of hundreds of millions, possibly billions of people, and extended conflict.”

Billions of refugees. Extended conflict. And that’s the last paragraph.

Organic vegetable gardens at the White House and switching lights off for an hour in the world’s cities as a gesture of concern are all, in their way, worthwhile contributions to giving people the sense that they’re Doing Something.

But unless such actions coupled with a serious and sober realisation, and blunt discussion/reporting in the mainstream media, of the reality of what is overwhelmingly likely to happen (namely, billions dying this century, not just becoming refuges), I’m not sure I see uncoupled gestures are going to help all that much.

Nihilism and Radical Uncertainty – Thoughts from Mary-Jayne

(Reposting this with proper formatting and also correcting a fairly major Freudian slip, which suggested that flying and driving might be a meaningful contribution to combatting climate change…. A reminder that it’s best not to post things very late at night and in a hurry.)

In an earlier post, this blog tackled the challenge of whether someone who’s ecologically-aware can use a car, or even travel by plane, without needing to feel guilty or being judged by eco-peers.

My own view, while agreeing that it makes every bit of financial and social sense to use public transport, was thatrefraining from (!)driving or flying – within reason – is valuable more as a personal gesture than, sadly, as a meaningful contribution to stopping climate change.

Mary-Jayne Rust has come back with a very useful perspective, with which I entirely agree (although I would challenge the understanding of my own position as “depressive”, except in the paradoxically positive Freudian sense.)

Addressing our friend Martin, who is concerned about using his car to travel to a summer gathering of ecologically-engaged therapists, Mary-Jayne writes:

“Martin, I would feel sad if you didn’t come because of your fear of being judged for driving there. I agree we all struggle with our own constraints.

I’m also interested in your comments on nihilism, hopelessness, and Mark’s ‘depressive position.’

It is depressing to face the situation we are in. It looks increasingly likely that we are heading for unimaginable loss of life. And while I don’t believe this is “The End of the World” it does seems as though it’s “The End of the World as we know it”.

Nihilism seems rather different. For me it lies in the ‘f**k it’ mentality. This runs something like: “We can’t turn this around, therefore there’s no point in any action anymore, and we may as well fly as much as we like or do anything we like because ultimately nothing will make a difference.”

Ultimately this is “F**k Gaia”. It’s f**k life. That attitude is for me the most depressing and hopeless and hard to bear of all. And it’s entirely understandable…

I guess the question is about making a difference to what? Even when death is certain, there is still opportunity for extraordinary transformation which can make such a difference to both those who are on their way out as well as those who remain here.

So my way out of nihilism, of finding meaning at the end of the world as we know it, is to spend what time we have looking our Shadow in the eye, trying to see what we have been caught in, trying to repair the damage as far as we can. This, for me, is a question about how we make peace with Gaia.

Mark made a comment some time back that (for example) stopping flying now wouldn’t make a difference in terms of averting climate change. The only difference it would make is personal. I want to challenge that, to try and understand this on a relational level.

That’s because I think that all actions make a difference to my relationship with Gaia – which is my relationship with myself, with you, with all of life.

It makes a difference on a eco-spiritual level.”

The Age of Stupid…

Just back from seeingThe Age of Stupid,a new UK-produced film looking back from an imagined hot world in 2055 from on mankind’s failure to take the steps that would have saved our homo sapiens from catastrophe.

I guess I’d hoped for a repeat and equally inspirational experience of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth – a film that changed planetary thinking about climate change and the threat it presents to our survival.

That’s a very big ask, and although it’s a well-made, thoughtful movie with compelling individual narratives aimed to jolt Western viewers into protesting on the streets, accepting windfarms in their back yards and taking climate change seriously, Age of Stupid isn’t in the same league.

A Nigerian girl living close to a Shell oil facility wants to be a doctor and enjoy a life of Western-style luxury. An Indian budget airlines entrepreneur dreams of getting all India airborne. Iraqi children in Jordanian exile play soldiers-and-insurgents. A grizzled old Mont Blanc guide in France tearfully and movingly laments the disappearance of the glaciers and of autumns and springs in the mountains. A New Orleans oilman lost everything in Katrina and comments that this must indeed be the Age of Stupid.

The film had the very best scientific advice from climate change guru Mark Lynas, filmed explaining how CO2 emissions must peak in 2015 and then fall rapidly if there’s to be any chance of holding global temperature rise to an only minimally disastrous two degrees.

But, as a movie, Age of Stupid didn’t, I’m afraid, for me light the blue touchpaper.

Despite the film’s grim final countdown to global meltdown by 2055, it just underlines how hard it now is and will remain, until catastrophe gets truly personal, to bring home to ordinary Western folk in our comfortable fossil-fuelled comfort the reality of how we stand on the brink of the precipice.

So HOW do we prepare?

Humankind with our current level of political and economic courage is like that addict, believing that we can keep using/abusing and somehow change at the same time. We can’t, and only very tough love will wake us up. The difference with the therapy analogy here being that it isn’t just the client who’s killing him/herself. Our own survival is also literally dependent on our clients’ ability to change. We are in this together, and don’t have the luxury of endless, slow-moving therapeutic work that gets there in the end.

Nick Totton asked the critical question in answer to my last blog, HOW should we begin preparing for the very worst.

The answer to that question is not at all clear to me either.

I am sure that Transition Towns, energy-saving, the work being done in spiritual communities and all the rest of which you all know so much more than me, and in which you have been engaged for aeons, is valuable, essential, and part of that preparation.

My concern is that the possibility/probability of potentially catastrophic breakdown, and how we approach that, needs to be made much more central and explicit.

As is done, evidently, in new movie The Age of Stupid. And as is terrifyingly NOT done in 99% of current media, political, cultural, economic discourse. Despite my hopes last weekend that we were possibly at last seeing a tipping point in how this is being understood and discussed. Another false dawn, though it’s just a question of time.

Once many more people begin engaging with/taking on board just what a challenge this is, I am confident that all kinds of options, approaches, possibly even (though I am not optimistic here) solutions will begin to emerge.

However, as long as we focus almost entirely on the likelihood/option of stopping climate change before it’s too late (and of course, it’s about so much more than CO2), we will never generate sufficient drive behind the need to change profoundly and rapidly. That was my personal disappointment with the Stern report and indeed with the IPCC conclusions of 2007 – mealy-mouthed, optimistic, lowest-common-denominator. And which is why the Copenhagen discussions last week were so very important – naming it more clearly than ever how it really is.

Two analogies. One our old friend the Titanic. The other picking up on therapy.

Let’s imagine we are indeed on the Titanic, steaming – indeed picking up speed – towards the scientifically-predicted collision with the iceberg. The chances of finding ourselves dying in the water are, let’s say, 98%. What do we, as passengers and crew, do?

  • First, we seriously appraise the risk. And make sure everyone on board understands that this involves them too.
  • Then, we bring together the best minds and souls on board to look at how we might avert the collision. Slowing down, changing course, all options. But that can be only a part of our work.
  • At the same time, we have to prepare the ship as best we can for the actual collision. Reinforcing bulkheads, moving equipment and supplies to safer places, ensuring energy supplies for whatever and whoever survives the impact.
  • Parallel to that, we appraise realistically what supplies we have on board, the state of the lifeboats, and how best to use them. Both now before we hit the iceberg, and on behalf of any likely survivors.
  • This bit is really difficult – we have to start thinking about who is going to be on the lifeboats, and how to handle panic. We have to name the fact (as some are now beginning to do) that many, many will die. And that terrible choices will have to be made.
  • We must do whatever we can to ensure that there ARE survivors of the impact itself and its immediate aftermath, who then carry with them what they need to keep surviving. We need to consider how any survivors of the likely collision are going to live in the world they reach beyond the immediate catastrophe. That will have to be very differently to how we/they have partied on the boat so far. Transition movements, meditation, discussions, realtionships, spiritual preparation, consideration and preparation of sustainable technologies and supplies and the rest. Absolutely essential, and all work done now can only benefit that future community.

In short, there’s a huge amount to be done – practically, emotionally, spiritually, politically. But, and here’s my second analogy, none of it will have the impact it needs to have if most of the planet doesn’t realise how urgent this task of preparation is, and somehow thinks it can continue with business-as-usual, with just a bit of tweaking.

  • I don’t know about others in this conversation, but as therapist, I know that I cannot begin serious work with an addict until they have acknowledged what a mess they are in, and in AA terms climbed on the wagon. If the client continues to use drugs or get paralytic six nights a week, I can sit (and occasionally have sat) with them until blue in the face. And the therapy won’t work, full stop. As addict after addict has told me, until the wheels came off the wagon, they weren’t ready to change. THEN, we need to be here, and to help them pick up the pieces in a new way. So we have to sit with them, and keep talking and listening, until they’re ready to shift.

Your question How? is critically fair, Nick. What I do know is that I personally don’t believe I will serve anything or anyone by beating around what I see as a very clear bush. It’s damned uncomfortable, but I don’t see that any other approach than the bluntest of talking – let’s hope it comes very soon from our political leaders – will help.

The iceberg looms.

Trains, and Boats and Planes – Sustainable?

A couple of thoughts from Eeyore’s gloomy corner of the Gaian wood about guilt and shame and travelling by car or plane to an ecotherapy retreat weekend in July.


As any readers of this blog know, the position I’ve found as a relative newcomer to these discussions is one of sad certainty that the Game is Over – just look at the vapour trails left over Cirencester to see a tiny part of how we continue to pump out greenhouse gases.

And even if it isn’t Over (staying with Nick Totton’sdetermination to hold on to even 0.001% chance that there’s hope), the equally sad truth is that we, individually, by choosing to travel by train or car or plane or even horse or bike (which is my own favoured mode), can’t actually make a blind bit of difference. Except to how we personally feel about ourselves, and that matters.

That’s not a counsel for despair. As I see it, it’s a fact. Just by existing as one of nearly seven billion humans on this planet, which isn’t a choice we ever made, we are part of whatLovelock so rightly calls humanity as a force of nature that is radically changing the environment, just as a dozen spewing volcanoes or a large meteorite would have (and have regularly) done. Thereby rendering it largely uninhabitable for us and for a tragic number of our fellow Gaia-dwelling species.

This isn’t at root about our own human guilt or shame or blame. We can’t help being what and who we are as homo sapiens, behaving just like any other species, and unable, unkitted-out – not because we’re evil – to be any different. At least, not in time to reverse the changes we have been making for 10s of thousands of years, and not just since the industrial revolution.

I personally dislike travelling by car, and much prefer the train or the bus, combined with a Brompton bike. But I have the luxury of being a fit Western middle class male, and happy to get wet and sweaty sometimes. If I travel any serious distance by car, I’m aware that it’s not my preferred option, and that taking public transport would be more fun, and quite often cheaper. But I no longer kid myself that when I leave the car on the drive I’m helping save the planet.

We’re at last putting solar hot water into our house in Cirencester. But that’s not out of guilt, or any hope to save the polar bears. Not really any more about saving money either. It’s because when things hit the fan in the coming years, and when energy gets terrifyingly expensive, we would still like to have at least some hot water to wash in. Part of a very personal survival strategy.

I also occasionally travel by plane (although, thankfully on many fronts, radically less than I did until a year ago when I stopped training internationally in journalism and trauma). My wife Sue and I flew to India last year, and to China the year before.

This summer we’re flying the tandem to Transsylvania for three weeks. I would prefer to go to all these places by train. But for many practical, financial and very familiar reasons, we flew and still occasionally fly. And sadly, again, I have no illusion that by choosing the train, I might help stop global warming.

(Friends of ours from Cirencester are currently trying to travel as carbon-neutrally as possible around the world. Their cargo ship from Canada to the UK has just been cancelled. They looked into the Queen Mary – but that liner’s CO2 emissions are twice as high per passenger as flying. So, they’re flying. The only way to be carbon-neutral is to stop travelling.)

Yes, that is fatalist. But as I understand it (see George Monbiot this week, though he draws a different, We-Cannot-Accept-This conclusion), that’s the reality.

So while I agree with many of my fellow participants that it’s better to travel to our July weekend by public transport or on horseback, I personally will neither be feeling hostile towards anyone who chooses to come by car, nor will I feel personally guilty for however I’ve got there myself. Which will probably be train and bike.

As ever, I know this is blunt. I wish, I wish, that my sceptical realism was unfounded. But we really do need at least to think about preparing for the very worst.

Naming It Like It Is

As we have struggled on this blog with the challenge of naming looming Armageddon without terrifying people into paralysis, UK press coverage of climate change seems to have crossed a tipping point this week.

The Sun has published an astonishingly forthright piece on the Age of Stupid’s movie scenarios for a rapidly warming earth, with the Sydney Opera House ablaze, the Alps denuded of snow, and London flooded.

A piece, albeit, commented upon by readers what appears to be a fairly standard ratio of about three-to-one head-in-the-sanders saying this is alarmist rubbish and a plot to squeeze out profits and push up taxes…

However, it’s been quite a week for UK media coverage.

George Monbiot argued on Friday that it’s time we stopped using the gentle term climate change for something that will be much, much more terrifying. He suggested climate breakdown. How about climate catastrophe?

Also on Friday the 13th, Lord Stern of the once cautious Stern report was quoted from the Copenhagen as warning that billions may become refugees as the whole areas of the planet become inhabitable.

The politicians, Stern says, just don’t yet realise how serious this is – and 2500 scientists behind him joined in an urgent, watershed call for a change in political understanding of the threat that faces us.

The Economist this week warns that sea levels are rising twice as fast as predicted – that is, as predicted in the fatally flawed lowest-common-denominator 2007 IPCC report.

And we also hear from Copenhagen that the rain forests are already seriously compromisedeven if emissions stop immediately. Which of course they won’t.

Prince Charles in Brazil was widely quoted as saying that at this “defining moment” in world history we have less than 100 months to stop the slide to catastrophe.

And yet, there’s such a long way to go.

On BBC Radio Four Any Questions last night from Northern Ireland, all four panelists, asked for their response to Prince Charles’s warnings, said they thought it was a bit alarmist, a bit OTT, one adding, what credentials does Prince Charles have anyway?

They included a Northern Ireland political commentator, the Editor of The Economist, the Chief Commissioner of the N Ireland Human Rights Commission and a Belfast Professor of Politics and Member of the House of Lords. Influential and intelligent people who clearly haven’t yet grasped the science of this.

Also, our old friend Bjorn Lomborg, leading climate change sceptic and a major force in recent years behind the Western media’s presentation of a supposedly objective balance of views, argued this week, at the same time, that global warming will also save lives.

But, Mary-Jayne, Viola and friends, our fears about naming the unnamable are increasingly, I think, misplaced. The collective unconscious is becoming rapidly conscious, and the tipping point to global alarm which I (and many others of course) have foreseen could now be rapidly approaching.

Copenhagen Names it Like It Is

(A reminder first that climate change posts are now also going up at facingclimatechange.blogspot.com).

As we have struggled on this blog with the challenge of naming looming Armageddon without terrifying people into paralysis, UK press coverage of climate change seems to have crossed a tipping point this week.
As George Monbiot rightly argues today, it’s time we stopped using the gentle term climate change for something that will be much, much more terrifying. Climate catastrophe? Climate breakdown?
Today, Friday the 13th, Lord Stern of the once cautious Stern report is quoted from the Copenhagen as warning that billions may (may!) become refugees as the whole areas of the planet become inhabitable.
The politicians, Stern says, just don’t yet realise how serious this is – and 2500 scientists behind him join in the desperate, watershed call for a change in political understanding of the threat that faces us.
The Economist this week warns that sea levels are rising twice as fast as predicted – that is, as predicted in the fatally flawed lowest-common-denominator 2007 IPCC report. And we also hear from Copenhagen that the rain forests are already seriously compromised even if emissions stop immediately. Which of course they won’t.
Prince Charles in Brazil also warns that at this “defining moment” in world history we have less than 100 months to stop the slide to catastrophe.
Bjorn Lomborg, leading climate change sceptic and a majorforce in recent years behind the Western media’s presentation of a supposedly objective balance of views, argues today, at the same time, that global warming will also save lives. So there’s still a way to go.
But, Mary-Jayne, Viola and friends, our fears about naming the unnamable are increasingly, I think, misplaced. The collective unconscious is becoming rapidly conscious, and the tipping point to global alarm which I (and many others of course) have foreseen could now be rapidly approaching.