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The Rocky Road of Hope

If, like me, you have followed the emergent trail of headlines and commentary post COP27 you may be forgiven for feeling more than a little disheartened and left with any sense of hope hanging by a thread.

The world could still, theoretically, meet its goal of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, a level many scientists consider a dangerous threshold. Realistically, that’s unlikely to happen.

Peter Schlosser in The Conversation

Despite the general air of gloom there was some good news; the “loss and damage fund” gave a long awaited sense of Climate Justice to the nations in the front line of the Climate Emergency. Although even this may provide a false hope if the underlying causes of Climate Change are not given urgent attention.

In the end, if all fossil fuels are not rapidly phased out no amount of money will be able to cover the cost of the resulting loss and damage. It is that simple. When your bathtub is overflowing you turn off the taps, you don’t wait a while and then go out and buy a bigger mop.”

Yeb Saño, head of Greenpeace’s COP delegation in Positive News

So are the UN COPs a waste of time? Should we all give up on the idea that we can make any progress in terms of dealing with the global addiction to fossil fuels? No, absolutely not! Now is the time to double down and look at every possible means for effecting change. If we look more closely at what happened at COP27 there are signs that the commitment is there, that there are countries willing to take the first steps forward.

The COP27 outcome is a timely reminder that curbing the growth in fossil fuels will not come about through consensus-oriented negotiations among governments that include those corrupted by the fossil fuel industry. It will require social movements pressuring leaders to legislate a managed phase out of fossil fuels, while ensuring a just transition for affected workers and communities. And it will require pioneering governments to work together internationally to forge new alliances that accelerate this goal.

Fergus Green and Harro van Asselt in The Conversation

“But what about the Fossil fuel lobby?” I hear you ask. Certainly based on how things played out at COP27 they seem all powerful. Especially at the moment in the midst of an energy crisis they appear to have a lot of sway.

But the COP process must change if we are to really make headway in fighting the climate crisis. With over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists patrolling the halls and striking deals on the side for new projects, and even the BP chief executive listed as a country delegate sitting in negotiations, this was like inviting arsonists to a firefighting convention.”

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, in Positive News

But the Fossil Fuel lobby’s influence stems from money, if they have less money they will have less power. There is much that can be done both through taxation and through divestment that will reduce that influence and help to shift attention to more viable, climate friendly alternatives. We all have a role in making that happen, we need to stiffen our resolve (and our shoes) and be willing to walk together on the rocky road of hope.

If you would like to find out more about how you can take steps towards a better future have a look at the Climate Solutions – Money page.

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Hope & Action

You may be forgiven for thinking that all the promises resulting from COP26 were just hot air. Very little seems to have happened since November 2021 and in some cases we seem to be going backwards. Certainly the UK response to the current energy crisis, with a proposed return to fossil fuel extraction, puts the goal of limiting global warming to +1.5C very much in doubt. However, the UK is but one actor on the global stage and elsewhere there are signs of hope. The US Senate recently committed to a significant, 40% reduction in green house gas emissions, a welcome boost to morale and a big step in the right direction. As we approach COP27 in early November (just 43 days time) you may be wondering whether it will be a re-hash of the same old words or will something new emerge; is there any point to these seemingly endless discussions?

There are reasons to hope, if we look back to the ultimate success of the Montreal Protocol on Ozone, which followed a similar arduous path, we can learn much.

Why was the Montreal Protocol successful, and how should the implementation of the Paris Agreement learn from it?

The Montreal Protocol worked for a number of reasons. Firstly, the public were aware of ­­– and understood – the dangers that CFCs posed, and the effect their continued use would have on the environment. The public’s support for change, drove industry to change as well; in this case, stopping the production of CFCs and switching to a less harmful substance. It showcased the positive effect that behavioural change can have, even if it starts with something small such as an  individual deciding not to buy any products with CFCs in them. Also important was the role of scientists, and in particular “scientists as advocates.” The dangers of CFCs were communicated powerfully by scientists and crucially, that message was accessible enough that the person on the street could understand what the threat was, and what they needed to do about it. These are all lessons that need to be understood when it comes to the Paris Agreement and climate action; namely that when individuals change their behaviour by consuming differently they can drive industries to change, as those industries are then caught between a ‘greening’ consumer demand and international and governmental policies focusing on climate action.

UNFCCC Blog Post

It is clear that to effect global change we need both government actors to legislate, to write new laws, we also need citizens (like us) to hold them to account and, equally importantly, to tell the world (and in particular industry and commerce) what we want by changing our behaviours.

If ever there was a time to act, it is now. Why not write to your MP, attend an event, make a positive change, talk about your concerns. Great Big Green Week (24 Sept to 2nd Oct) is just around the corner perhaps there is something happening locally to you which could help you take a step on the road to positive action.

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World Views – what is in a piece of paper?

I was recently inspired by an idea shared by the poet and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn. An enquiry into the way we perceive the world around us. I thought I would share it with you as it highlights the importance of our own world view and how that shapes the way we make sense of things which in turn shapes our behaviours.

I invite you to do a little thought experiment:

  • Find a piece of paper, any paper will do.
  • Now take a few moments to observe it.
  • Write down a few words in answer to the question – What is in that piece of paper?

Most of us, including me, write down things which describe the look of the paper and what we think it might be made from; things like, its flexible, grainy, made from wood fibres etc. Few of us look beyond the material aspects of what is in front of us but if we think about it there is so much more…

If our sheet of paper is made from wood then there is a tree in our paper. The tree grew in a forest, on some soil, it needed sunlight, it needed water. The water came from rain, from a cloud, from the sea. All of these are in our paper. The tree was harvested by a lumberjack, perhaps they had porridge for breakfast and used a petrol powered chainsaw. They are also in our paper. So it goes on until we logically conclude that the universe is in our sheet of paper.

When we do this kind of experiment we realise that everything is interconnected and we need to step back and see the links to fully appreciate things. We are in the universe and it is in us.

Over the coming months I will be adding some new concepts to my web site – Regenerative Concepts – stepping beyond our focus on Climate to look at other parts of the planetary puzzle. To take our first step towards a regenerative future we need to realign our World Views. Moving from a way of seeing things as separate to seeing everything as interconnected; nothing as created or destroyed but simply transformed into something else; nothing as permanent but simply as part of a flow.

World Views – How aware are we of the mental models which shape us?

To keep up to date with the new Regenerative Concepts as they are released you can subscribe here.

Every day is Earth Day

April 22nd is designated as Earth Day – a day on which we are encouraged to think about our planet, our lifestyles and the changes we can make to live within the planetary boundaries. To celebrate this fact many organisations held events, shared news and inspiring stories – my in-box was flooded with messages, social media streams were filled with posts. Yet once this tidal wave has passed I am given to wonder how many of us will think about Earth today and indeed every day hence. We need to.

We need stories and inspiration every day to help us see the path forwards. I am always looking for ways to make this easier to do, both for myself and others. One way is providing tools to help us see where we are and where we need to be, to provide suggestions of steps, big and small, to take us in a better direction. One such tool I recently found is Giki Zero – a foot-printing tool with a difference. It not only helps you evaluate your Carbon footprint, it also looks at other aspects which are less direct and relate to our Climate Shadows and on top of that provides user with inspiration on steps they can take and helps them set goals to work towards.

I tried it out and was pleased to receive a great Giki score of 1,362 (with an estimated carbon footprint of 2.14 tons CO2e per year). I was also delighted to learn that, even thought I have been focusing on improving my footprint for a while now, there are still more things I can do that will make a difference!

If you are looking for some inspiration to help you make every day an earth day then why not give it a try!

Climate Impact – Shadows and Beacons

As our understanding of the impact that we can have on the climate and health of our planet evolves it is necessary to challenge the way we think about things and whether our attention is focused in the right place. With this in mind I felt it was important to add a further Climate Concept to my library – Shadows and Beacons – if you have a few moments to spare I would like to share with you my thinking behind this concept and how it has changed my perspective on the way we measure our Climate Impact.

Trying to understand our Climate Impact and the effect that our daily habits and actions have on this is not simple. When I first started on my Climate Journey I quickly latched on to the idea of being able to calculate my carbon footprint and identify the things I might be able to change to reduce it. Four years on and I feel quite pleased with the progress I have made on my journey. I have significantly reduced my footprint but, how much effect has this had on my overall climate impact?

During one of my Climate Conversations workshops we were discussing carbon footprints and one of the participants cited a value for the UK carbon emissions which was quite different to the value I was used to seeing. When I dug into this further I realised the number they were using only included direct emissions resulting from activities within the UK and excluded emissions relating to imports. This made me stop and think; I realised that the value of a metric such as Carbon Footprint is limited by what is included in it.

This reminded me of a question that one of my mentors used to ask me:-

What is more important – doing things right or doing the right things?

Confused? I was until I thought about it more. It’s actually quite simple and we can use the carbon footprint of a car as a great example. When trying to understand how much impact our car use has on our carbon footprint we jump to the thing which is most obvious to us and the easiest to quantify – the emissions from the fuel. We then think about how to reduce that and some of the solutions we come up with are things like: drive the car less, car share, try to drive in a way which is more fuel economic, switch to a more fuel economic car etc.

All of these will reduce the emissions from burning the fuel but is this the right thing to be focusing on? What about all of the emissions that were generated to create the car – the embodied carbon? For cars this can be quite large and generally the bigger the car the bigger this number is. When considering the embodied carbon the way to reduce the impact is to keep the car for a long time and get as much use as we can from it. If we look again at some of the solutions we came up with to reduce the impact of our fuel emissions we can see that some of them are potentially in conflict with reducing the indirect impact from the embodied carbon.

Okay! – I hear you say – so that is all well and good but the indirect impact is hard for me to measure so how do I know how much impact I am having? This takes us right back to the original question. All of us are comfortable when we can measure something and see that we are making progress when we change our habits – we can get a good sense that we are doing it right. We are much less comfortable with fuzzy things which we cant easily (or precisely) measure. This can drag our attention away from the right things to be doing. So perhaps it helps if we use a different metaphor for the fuzzy things, such as embodied carbon, that make up our indirect impact. What about thinking about this as a shadow?

The Climate Shadow concept was recently introduced by Climate activist and writer Emma Pattee.

I visualize my climate shadow being made of three parts: my consumption, my choices, and my attention.

Emma Pattee

This is a powerful way of thinking beyond our carbon footprint to other aspects which are also a part of our climate impact equation and may be more significant. We have already touched on the indirect impact relating to embodied carbon which links to our consumption habits and also to our choices. What we buy, it’s quality, how and where it is made and, how often we replace/upgrade it all contribute. In this way our shadow reaches across the globe and can create ripples in the system as our choices influence the success of businesses and the choices of others.

The attention we pay to our actions and choices and, the attitude we broadcast either by creating a sense of apathy or amplifying a sense of urgency can have a negative or positive impact. Perhaps it is my pedantic nature but this is where I feel that the shadow metaphor breaks down a little. It works if we think about negative actions/attitudes which clearly we want to reduce but to me the positive aspects of supporting sustainable businesses, of spreading hope and amplifying urgency requires a different metaphor – a Climate Beacon which can light a path for others to follow.

Addressing our Climate Impact is very much about focusing on doing the right things  – these can come from paying attention to aspects of our direct carbon footprint in the wider context of the shadow our actions and choices cast and the way our attention serves to amplify positive change within the system. So far I think I have done a reasonable job of reducing my direct carbon footprint but my shadow is larger than I realised and reducing this will need more of my attention as I continue on my Climate Journey. Hopefully by sharing the new Climate Concept – Shadows and Beacons – with you will help to keep my beacon burning brightly and light a path for you on your journey too.

If you would like to receive regular updates from Climate Concepts and your own free copy of the Climate Concepts Infographics which includes the latest – Shadows and Beacons – concept then you can sign up here.

Visualising Climate Solutions – How can a bathtub help?

Trying to make sense of proposed Climate solutions and policies can be very challenging. Experts often get caught up in jargon, figures, complex graphs. The non-experts are left scratching their heads and either find themselves dismissing the explanation or blindly following it; neither of which is ideal.

During the many conversations and workshops on Climate Solutions that I have run over the past couple of years I have found simple analogies a very useful means of helping to get complicated ideas across. Perhaps the most popular, and most powerful, of these is the Climate Bathtub. This concept helps to show the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions (the flow from the tap) and the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (the water in the bath); not forgetting of course the greenhouse gas removals represented by the drain. To see how this concept works you can watch our short video.

Anther tool I use frequently in my workshops is the Climate Simulator (En-ROADS, developed by Climate Interactive.) This tools enable the use to enter potential solutions/policies and see what effect they might have. If we combine the Climate Bathtub concept with the information provided by the simulator we can readily see whether the proposed set of solutions/policies are likely to be sufficient.

Using the bathtub to explore different scenarios

In a recent post I shared the analysis of the COP26 policy pledges which suggests that we are currently on a path similar to scenario 2 shown in the graphic above. Click here to find out more – Read More

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Looking Up and Beyond to COP27

Was COP26 just a load of “blah, blah, blah” as Greta Thunberg put it? At a recent webinar hosted by Climate Interactive their director Andrew Jones reviewed the pledges made at COP26 and used the En-ROADS simulator to visualise their potential impact. As you can see from the image below the pledges to start phasing out coal, stop deforestation, electrify our transport system and reduce methane emissions could make a difference; significantly flattening the greenhouse gas emissions curve and potentially limiting warming to +3°C by 02100.

COP26 Pledges visualised in the En-ROADS Simulator

From this analysis it is clear that we need to push much harder to achieve the changes that can keep the goal of +1.5°C alive. Even if we flatten the emissions curve the overall level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to rise.

Plot showing how greenhouse gas levels still rise even though we have flattened the emissions curve

What we need to do is take actions that will decrease emissions to half the current level by 02030. This is theoretically still possible if we curb fossil fuel use and methane emissions, work hard to improve energy efficiency and invest in carbon sequestration technologies. These actions are increasingly urgent and more significant commitments will be required at COP27 next year if we are to succeed.

We all need to keep our Climate Conversations going and commit to putting Climate Solutions into practice wherever we can.  If you want to join us as we continue our journey and invite your friends, family, colleagues to come along too just follow this link and sign up for regular updates.

If you want to dig deeper and gain a wider perspective on what different people and organisations thought about the outcomes from COP26  here are some links which you may find useful.

Happy Solstice

On this the shortest day in 02021 I invite you to pause and to reflect. To take a moment to slow your pace in line with the rhythm of the season. To take a breath, to look around you and acknowledge your place in this wonderful world that we share. To stay a while and replenish your energy, to refill your cup. And when you are done to take a mindful step forward with renewed purpose. Go well into 02022 my friends.

Climate Journey Story – the 2021 instalment

In our efforts to tackle the Climate Emergency the single, most important thing we can do is to share the stories of our journeys; stories which can provide inspiration and encouragement, stories that remind us that the change, although not easy, is possible and will certainly be a legacy for which our future generations will be grateful. This is the latest instalment in my Climate Journey Story.

At the end of 2020, I shared a summary of my Climate Journey towards a kaleidoscope world in which we can live in a more climate conscious and sustainable way that is in balance with our planet. I had set myself a challenge to further reduce my footprint and to do more to address other aspects of my lifestyle including my impact on the land and nature as well as thinking about the things I buy and where they come from. So how did I get on?

When I pulled together the data on our home energy use for the year and ran this through the carbon footprint calculator I was pretty excited. The installation of our heat pump system had enabled us to reduce the total amount of energy we used by about 15%, and to reduce this part of our carbon footprint by 50% (the result of being able to move away from using gas, apart from for cooking). On top of this only half of our electricity came from the gird the rest was supplied by our solar panel and battery system. The installation of the heat pump had been done as part of a package of home energy improvements we had undertaken following the guidance of Cosy Homes Oxfordshire which also included cavity wall and loft insulation. As these were only completed part way through the year, we will have to wait to see their full impact but as we head into winter again, we are already feeling the benefits of increased comfort at less cost (both to me and to the planet).

Another big part of my carbon footprint which had changed was transport. This had come down by a whopping 90%. Most of this can be attributed to two things; for all my short journeys I walked or cycled, and we got rid of our second (non-electric) car which meant that we finally embraced the idea of using the electric one for longer trips (when going by train was not practical) which actually proved to be quite simple once we got the hang of the different charging systems. Will I be able to sustain such a low travel footprint in the coming years? Possibly not, I have certainly travelled less due to Covid restrictions, attending many meetings on-line, but then maybe that is a new way of doing things that will endure. We will have to wait and see.

The final set of changes which had a further positive impact on my carbon footprint relate to food. As well as growing more of our own fruit and vegetables we switched to buying the rest through an organic veg box scheme (thank you Riverford). This in combination with a commitment to eating more seasonally, wasting less and also sourcing our bulk staples (rice, lentils, beans etc.) from sustainable organic suppliers, where possible, helped to reduce my food footprint by around 50%.

Overall, I calculated my carbon footprint in 2021 to be 3.3 tons of CO2, roughly a third of what it was the previous year. What about the wider sustainability impacts of the lifestyle changes I have made? Looking beyond carbon to a more holistic global footprint I find that I am using less of the world’s resources but at 1.1 earths this is still more than my share. There are things which still need more attention such as water use and, perhaps more significantly, that large white elephant called consumption that we often somehow ignore. Before I look at this in more depth, I want to address some of the other aspects of my climate journey which are also hard to measure but are no less important. Aspects relating to biodiversity and my relationship with the world around me.

Two of the biggest changes I have made this year relate to my garden. I already mentioned that I elected to grow more of my own fruit and veg and to grow it organically. I have never used pesticides and fertilisers on a large scale before but until now I have always used some. I have for many years made my own compost from garden waste and food scraps such as potato peelings; this year I also added coffee grounds into the mix which I previously poured down the sink (what a waste of nutrients!). Something amazing happened; I am not sure what to attribute it to but the population of worms and other soil fauna in my compost exploded and the quality of my compost improved enormously as a result. The other thing we changed was to let our grassy areas go wild, we did not mow them until harvest time when we gathered a crop of hay which should keep our pet rabbits going through the winter. The effect was magical, so many types of grass and wildflowers all providing sustenance for insects and birds. I had a little colony of blue damsel flies which took up residence in a patch of grass and yarrow for several weeks. Even now in the winter season we see more birds which are nourished by the seed heads we left behind. The garden might look a little scruffy round the edges but it’s an amazing place to spend a few minutes each day enjoying being part of nature.

When on a journey it is always good to pause and admire the view. Looking back over the past year I am pleased with the progress I have made. Each thing has required some investment either of time, money or in most cases just a little more thought. Should I give myself a pat on the back? Absolutely! Should I sit back and relax having come so far? Absolutely not! My journey is far from done. I have set myself the goal of reducing my footprint by a further 10% in 2022 and, based on progress made so far, that should be relatively easy to do – or should it? I spoke before about the white elephant called consumption; we tend to ignore it because it is hard to quantify. But just because it is hard to quantity that doesn’t mean we can’t seek to reduce it. In the coming year I will be looking at ways to do just that. I am not suggesting following a puritanical approach just a more practical one; investing less in carbon intensive things and making then last longer when I do; investing more in carbon neutral, sustainable things, investing more in the world to which we belong and reaping the rewards of that richer relationship. Want to join me on my journey? Share your story and let’s explore that world together.

Lessons from a mini-COP

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to be part of a delegation at a COP Climate Summit. What would it be like to be negotiating with other delegations each trying to represent their own interests? All wondering whether the actions they are proposing will have the impact they desire and will be acceptable to others? Hoping against hope that some progress can be made, that everyone can eventually agree on a path forward.

If, like me you immersed yourself in the flood of media interest spewing forth from the COP26 negotiations you might think you have grasped a reasonable idea of what it must be like to be one of those delegates. But what if you could go one step further and experience it for yourself?

Imagine what it might be like to be at a UN Climate Summit

During the COP26 fortnight I did just that with a group of 60 school pupils from the Ridgeway Education Trust schools including Didcot Girls School, St Birinus and Didcot Sixth form, in their very own mini-COP. We made use of the Climate Action Simulation, a group role play game developed by Climate Interactive that enables participants to explore solutions for mitigating climate change using real world data in combination with the power of the En-ROADS Climate Simulator.

Delegates were split into teams and asked to take on the roles of various interest groups including Climate Justice Activists, World Governments, Clean Technologies, Industry and Commerce, Conventional Energy and Land, Agriculture & Forestry. By playing these roles, which were in many cases at odds with their own values and priorities the pupils were able to experience the challenge from a new perspective and to understand what matters to people from these sectors and what drives their thinking. To add some authenticity to the occasion I took on the challenge of stepping into the role of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, kicking off the event with a thought provoking challenge. My co-facilitator for the day was Hannah, one of the Student Climate Leaders, who did an admirable job in her role as Patricia Espinosa, keeping the delegates focused on our goal of limiting warming to +1.5C as the rounds progressed.

I call on you today as global representatives to balance the need for climate action with that of your own and your stakeholders’ needs and to create a feasible roadmap to stay well below 2°C of warming. My friends we have the tools to make the fundamental changes that are necessary We need only find the will to put them into action.

Excerpt from my opening speech in my role as Antonito Guterres

Within their assigned roles the groups engaged in several rounds of the Climate Simulation game which involved proposal of potential policies and exploration of the possible impact of those policies on greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature and sea level over the coming century. There was plenty of opportunity for negotiation with other groups to explore common ground and find policies which could be broadly accepted even if some level of compromise had to be made. The outcome from our mini-COP was somewhat more promising than the one in Glasgow achieving a projected rise in global temperature of +1.6C, close to the stated goal of +1.5C.

During the Debrief we all stepped out of our roles and paused to reflect on how we were feeling

Our delegates were excited by this outcome and in a poll at the end of the game most of them expressed feelings of hope and positivity. The game had given them a fair share of feeling sad and mad too as policies were overturned or watered down and progress reversed along they way. The Climate Justice group not only had to suffer the indignity of sitting on the floor but at the end of round 1 they endured a flood as sea levels rose by more than a metre. It was by no means plain sailing, but then that is the power of combining the role play with the simulator – everyone gets to experience the journey of collaborating, negotiating, prototyping and crafting together a solution that is not perfect but can be a basis to start from.

Adding a bit of drama by modeling the projected sea level rise of >1m using a blue sheet to flood the delegates representing Climate Justice

Having come to recognise that solving the Climate Crisis is possible with the tools we have available and acknowledging that it will not be easy, the delegates were then able to step out of their roles and discuss real life actions that they could take either at home or at school. Things that would enable them to put some of their broader policies from the game, such as rapidly moving away from fossil fuels, improving energy efficiency or reducing methane emissions, into practice. Using the five main Climate Solutions topics of Transport and Travel, Energy in the Home, Food and Land Use, Money and What we Buy, the groups put forward a number of ideas to implement at their schools in the coming months with a particular focus on waste, both in terms of reducing waste of all kinds and in terms of better management of waste materials. I am very much looking forward to helping them put many of those ideas into action!

Translating learning from the simulation to tangible actions using our Climate Solutions Resources

The whole event left me buzzing with energy and filled with hope. The pupils were buzzing too; the power of the role play experience had really helped them to understand that the world is full of many perspectives not just their own and that it is possible to navigate a path forward through patient negotiation and positive collaboration. Seeing the potential outcomes of their ideas revealed through the power of the En-ROADS simulator gave them the freedom to explore and the confidence to change their minds and adapt their plans. A learning experience they will be able to take forward into situations where fruitful collaboration will be the key to solving future problems.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day and took a lot away from it… I thought it was interesting to role play and make use of the En-ROADS program… I really enjoyed the ‘how we can apply this to our school’ section that followed…

I absolutely loved it and came home inspired, motivated, full of confidence and with a real interest in a career in negotiating!

Some feedback from participants

The Climate Simulation Game can be run with groups of any age from about 14 years up. All you need is a willingness to step into someone else’s shoes and explore with an open mind. If you would like to experience a mini-COP of your own to help you better understand which solutions can help to solve the Climate Crisis and what Climate Actions you can take individually or as a group then why not drop me a line I will be happy to help.