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Yesterday myself and a few colleagues headed down to the Design Museum, London for the launch of Sustainable Futures – Can Design Save the World? a new exhibition that:
presents key examples of how design can deliver a more sustainable future. The exhibition examines not only the objects themselves but also the infrastructure in which objects are produced and exist. At a time when designers and architects are under pressure to ‘think green’ and education establishments are placing greater emphasis on sustainability in the curriculum, this exhibition highlights how design can, literally, help save the world.
And, the exhibition features our very own Ration Me Up monthly carbon ration book.
“Institutions are the things that define governments. The 1945 government was defined by its relationship with the NHS. The 1997 government was defined by … institutions like Sure Start. I think the idea of the People’s Bank, the network of post offices around the country connected by a new financial institution, is one of those ideas. It speaks to people’s sense of community – and frankly, banks have let down low-income consumers, and others as well. It is part of a new deal for the low paid around the banking industry. […] It is part of a bigger reform I think we need in the relationship between individuals and financial institutions. We have a set of institutions in our post offices that can form the basis of this banking system, but up to now we have not put into practice this idea that it can be a very serious financial institution and, if you like, a competitor to the conventional private sector. At present there are limits to what the Post Office can offer in terms of current accounts – we will expand those services and link them up with credit unions.”
This is really fantastic news, not just for those of us who have led the campaign for a Post Bank here at nef and beyond, but for people living on the front line of financial exclusion. Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour now support the Post Bank, and there have been some positive murmurings in the sidelines of the Conservative Party.
You can help build momentum for the creation of a Post Bank, particularly if you live in a Conservative constituency, by asking your MP to sign Early Day Motion 344.
You may not be aware of this but, late last week, Ed Miliband ‘declared war’. This was not the usual, armed conflict type. Instead, the climate secretary entered into an ongoing battle based around knowledge and research. The main opponents were those who continue to deny the existence of human powered climate change. Let’s call them climate deniers (the use of this contested term, I realise, is worthy of a blog in and of itself but that will have to wait for another day).
The Minister for Climate Change and Energy was concerned, rightly so, about the extensive media coverage dedicated to the minority opinions of the climate deniers. The coverage was so extensive that I do not need to repeat the details here. Instead, I am interested in the nature of this debate and want it says about the way in which human knowledge is produced, debated and advanced.
Ed Miliband raised concerns about the media’s role in obstructing public understanding and promoting confusion about climate change. The Minister is not the first to make this observation. There is a growing body of academic literature that points to the powerful role played by the media in the climate change debate. Indeed, the media seems to be one of the main platforms for expressing the climate denial perspective. This is problematic not only because the media influences public opinion but also because this form of debate completely by-passes the standard way in which scholarship and knowledge is debated, revised and advanced.
Within the academic community, peer review is the cornerstone of knowledge production. In order to ensure publication (and so legitimatisation), research findings must respond to critiques and comments as part of the peer review process. Peer review, whilst not a perfect system, is the main mechanism we have for validating knowledge. Climate deniers disregard this system. First, the majority of their claims are not submitted to peer reviewed journals. Second, the peer review process has been critical to furthering our understanding of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change generates reports based on a thorough and critical assessment of the evidence. This is what makes us confident that the findings are robust and trustworthy. Yet, it is this very process (and the findings) that climate deniers continue to dispute.
I don’t always agree with Ed Miliband but his recent concerns about the climate deniers are worth heeding. We need to continue to contest these views, not only to defend the rigour of academic knowledge advancement but, more urgently, to defend the future of our civilisation.
 See, for example, Boykoff, M., and Roberts, T. (2007) Media Coverage of Climate Change: Current Trends, Strengths and Weaknesses, Human Development Report Office Occasional Paper (UNDP)
 Antilla, L (2005) Climate of scepticism: US newspaper coverage of the science of climate change, Global Environmental Change, vol. 15: 338-352
There’s a fantastic sketch in a recent episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look. It’s first-century Pompeii, and the city consul Robert Webb has called his most trusted soothsayer Quintillius, played by David Mitchell, to discuss the dark smokey clouds that are hovering over his city. Having established that the forecast is hardly rosy, the consul suggests making an offering to appease the angry gods.
“Exactly,” replies Quintillius, “I’ve been having a bit of a think about this, and I reckon I’ve got it. We sort out our rubbish into separate bins. Green glass, brown glass, mosaic, papyrus all in separate bins – a sort of devotional thing. Once a week before going to bed on a Monday night, I reckon.”
This “futile time-consuming ritual”, promises the soothsayer, will be all that is necessary to make the atmosphere return to normal. “You know gods,” he says, “They love all that shit.”
David Mitchell is fortunately more perceptive than his Quintillius alter-ego. In his Observer column yesterday, he pointed out the ridiculousness of Ed Miliband’s promise to “protect air travel for the masses” while also pledging to cut carbon emissions:
Otherwise, [Miliband] said, it would mean “you would go back to 1974 levels of flying”. Well, if he thinks that’s the worst the environmental future could hold, he hasn’t been doing his boxes. “I don’t want to have a situation where only rich people can afford to fly,” he continued. Who does? But then it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Whereas …
For us Brits, it seems, no environmental catastrophe is “half as terrifying as losing our easyJet privileges.”
Apparently we feel there’s no point keeping the planet habitable unless we’ve still got quick access to Disney World and Ibiza. This is bizarre and depressing. It makes me need a holiday. Are our existences so miserable that we’re only living for two weeks of escape?
Mitchell is absolutely right. It is completely baffling why we sacrifice a habitable planet for disappointing hotels, crowded beaches, jet lag and inevitable family arguments. But we also need to ask which Britons are doing the escaping. Are they, as Miliband seems to think, “the masses”? Or are what Mitchell calls “easyJet privileges” exactly that: a perogrative of one particular elite?
Research by nef and the World Development Movement, published last autumn, revealed that the “democratisation” of foreign travel by cheap air fares is a myth. Only 8 per cent of cheap flights are taken by people on low incomes, and yet those people make up 32 per cent of the UK population. It’s actually the richest people who use cheap flights the most. 40 per cent of cheap air fares are bought by people in socio-economic categories A and B, who make up only 24 per cent of the population. Sorry Ed, but protecting air travel doesn’t make you a crusader for the poor. It makes you the defender of stockbroker mini-breaks.
At the end of the sketch, Webb’s consul complains that Quintillius’ rubbish-sorting scheme amounts to little more than, well, “pissing in the wind.” Politicians, it seems, have lost a certain perspicacity in the last 1,947 years.
The Secretary of State for Climate Change and Energy’s plans for the transition to a low carbon future for the UK are welcome, and not before time. But is the scale of the vision set out in The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan up to the task at hand?
Beginning with the first element of Ed Miliband’s ‘Energy Trinity’, investment in wind and tidal energy is long overdue good news. However, at £180 million or 23 per cent of the estimated £775m annual bonus package for staff at the failed Royal Bank of Scotland, we have to question how far the rhetoric is matched by real commitment.
Nuclear power, now given the green light, poses serious unsolved problems to do with long-term waste, cost, inflexibility and international security. In any event, it couldn’t deliver in time to meet the real world target set, not by government, but by the atmosphere – of reducing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere to 350ppm.Neither can the climate system wait for unproven carbon capture and storage technology to come on line.
The answer for coal must be elegantly simple. Leave it in the ground.
The first part of the Energy Trinity is vastly under-resourced; the other two are of a different nature entirely. They are a dangerous diversion which, if we follow, would undermine efforts to preserve the climatic conditions under which civilisation emerged. Remove them and focus resources on the transformation of our aging energy infrastructure, massive scale-out of proven renewable technologies, the transformation of our building stock and the creation of a low vehicle transport system and the plan might begin to look like the Green New Deal our environment and our economy so urgently needs.