Gareth's Blog

Recent Posts

Archives

Archives

climate change Archives - Terra Infirma


Browse All

24 May 2018

Book Review: Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth

I haven't reviewed many Sustainability books on here of late, mainly because the few I have read recently have been terrible, some to the point of being unreadable. Frankly I didn't want to bore you with diatribes against poor authors (in both senses of the word 'poor'). However, a couple of weeks ago I took a duplicate present back to Waterstones and, on a whim, picked up Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth as a replacement. Talk about serendipity.

The titular doughnut is Raworth's analogy for a sustainable economy which is strong enough to pull people above the inner limit of the poverty line (the social foundation), yet stays within natural limits (the ecological ceiling). Within these two thresholds we should be 'agnostic' about growth. I love a simple, resonant analogy and this is one of the best Sustainability models I've come across for a long time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

14 May 2018

Stop frightening people about climate change

One of the basic principles of psychology is that, despite millions of years of evolution, we are still instinctive animals at heart. We fear fire, which we have lived with and used for at least 300,000 years, but we don't, as a species, fear climate change which poses an existential threat. Yes, we do some logical analysis, but when the chips are down, logic gets bumped by emotions.

Many Sustainability practitioners and activists have made it their life's mission to make other people fear climate change. But the problem with fear is its very power. It can make us freeze and watch the threat bearing down on us like an out of control articulated lorry. Or it can make us run to the (apparent) safety of what we know. The last thing fear does is encourage us to sit down and objectively assess the options available before making a rational choice.

My preferred method of engaging people in Sustainability is to involve them in the process of delivering it. When I'm helping a client develop a Sustainability Strategy, I involve key decision makers in creating it. When implementing a Sustainability Strategy, I challenge each group of individuals to develop the plan to do so for their team/division. That creative activity evaporates the fear of change and gets people excited about a Sustainable future, as they've designed a little bit of it.

'Feel the fear and do it anyway' is a great title for a self-help book, but in practice 'Just do it' is a much more useful cliché.

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

16 March 2018

Stephen Hawking on Sustainability

As a member of that huge club who only got a third of the way through "A Brief History of Time", the death of Stephen Hawking this week marked the end of an era. Not so much in sadness, because this is a guy who managed to outlive the terrible prognosis of Motor Neurone Disease by a country mile. He made the most of the life he had by not only getting a new understanding of the Universe, but bringing those esoteric concepts of theoretic physics into the mainstream (even if they hurt our heads).

So I thought I'd mark Prof Hawking's passing with an extract from a Guardian article of his which really resonated with me:

We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.

Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.

[...]

We can do this, I am an enormous optimist for my species; but it will require the elites, from London to Harvard, from Cambridge to Hollywood, to learn the lessons of the past year. To learn above all a measure of humility.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

2 March 2018

Hot takes on The Beast from the East

So, much of the UK is gripped by a long cold snap with blasts of some pretty horrendous weather. While the Press whips itself into a frenzy over the country's supposed inability to cope, I can still walk to the corner shop every morning and get a couple of litres of milk to feed the mob (although the Guardian didn't make it this morning – quelle horreur!).

Here's my hot takes on the Beast from the East:

  • Sudden extreme weather is very difficult to prepare for. The reason the UK isn't equipped with all the paraphernalia for deep snow is that we haven't had any for 8 years, so it makes no sense to maintain all the snow chains etc 'just in case'. A couple of years ago I visited the usually damp Portland, Oregon in the middle of a crazy heatwave and they were struggling to cope too. Unpredictability will make climate adaptation a real challenge.
  • Many people expect no disruption during extreme events. From the guys trying to get up the steep hill outside my house when a couple of inches of snow has just fallen and failing (pic), to those stuck on motorways, I can't help thinking the phrase 'essential travel only' gets interpreted very loosely. Hats off, though, to all the brave souls who are keeping the country running, from the gritters to the carers who really do have to battle through the elements.
  • The old 'I can see snow, therefore climate science is bunk' zombie myth has risen again (two letters in our local paper today). Trying to persuade people that, as in 2010, the cold spell is being caused by anomalous warming in the Arctic is a hard sell as it is so counterintuitive – maybe not the best time to rebut such nonsense.
  • One thing that we should be flag waving about is that at a time the country's gas reserves are running low, the fact that 25% of electricity is coming from wind power is a very good thing indeed.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

29 January 2018

Sustainability is no place for the fickle

I saw a blog post last week entitled something along the lines of "Forget Carbon. The Latest Crisis Is Plastics." This would have annoyed me massively at the best of times, but particularly so given that Kick Ass Idea no 1 of my 12 Kick Ass Sustainability Ideas for 2018 webinar last week was "No Fads".

The point I was making was to avoid the entreaties of those constantly pumping out the 'latest thing in Sustainability' – a couple of years ago it was all about Creating Shared Value, then we were told that mindfulness was a prerequisite of Sustainability, now people are desperately trying to work out how blockchain can deliver Sustainability. This flighty faddism over techniques is distracting enough without people saying that, because the full scale of the plastics problem has hit the public consciousness, climate change is no longer a priority.

That, my friends, is highly dangerous bullshit.

One problem becoming clearer does not make another disappear. While it's almost impossible to compare two environmental problems objectively, my subjective opinion is that climate change remains the head and shoulders above the rest purely on the scale and range of its impacts – from extreme weather through sea-level rises to ocean acidification – there is no hiding place.

But, whatever your view on their relative scales, it is not beyond the wit of the human race to tackle two major problems at the same time. In fact one solution – the circular economy – will go a long, long way to tackle both the climate and ocean plastic crises.

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

22 September 2017

Sustainability Bites: #ClimateOptimist, Cause for Optimism and Theresa May

Here's this week's edition of Sustainability Bites. I covered the Climate Optimist campaign (again), the Nature Geosciences paper on progress towards Paris Agreement commitments and Theresa May's speech to the UN. Comments in the comments please!

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

19 September 2017

Why #ClimateOptimist makes me want to cry


Yesterday afternoon, my Twitter feed suddenly filled with garish 80's-home-computer style graphics urging me to "Opt-in to be a #ClimateOptimist!".

"'Ello?" I asked myself and did some clicking. More hi-viz colours, more flashing slogans, some nice T-shirts, not much else. My heart sank.

Not because I'm a pessimist, no, quite the opposite. I'm a committed, if quietly pragmatic, optimist.

My problem is the answer to the fundamental question "Who is this for?", which appears to be "People like me (but maybe a bit more tolerant of childish text fonts)." But I already get it. I don't matter.

What does it say to the consumer on the high street on a Saturday afternoon? What does it say to the product designer choosing materials for the product those consumers are buying? What does it say to the policy maker deciding on transport investment, building standards or energy subsidies?

Not a lot. Nothing, in fact.

This is vitally important, because it is these people we need to speak to – the people who we must persuade to make different decisions to the ones they normally make. And to do that we need to translate Sustainability into a form that means something to them. Rattling slogans around the Sustainability echo-chamber is just a waste of time and effort.

Rant over.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

4 September 2017

Sustainability Bites Ep1: Harvey & Climate Change

Here's the pilot episode of a new series of short, sharp, lo-fi Sustainability snippets I've decided to launch. I've called it Sustainability Bites as a. the episodes are bite-sized, and b. it's all about how Sustainability is starting to bite – we've gone way beyond chin-stroking and are now making different decisions to make things happen.

This edition is about whether natural disasters are the right time to raise climate change.

At present, these will appear as and when I feel like it rather than on a regular basis, although it may find it's own niche naturally. The best way to keep up is head over to my Facebook page and send me a friend request!

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

19 July 2017

Game of Thrones and the Sustainability Vision Thing

Great excitement chez Kane on Monday as, as soon as the junior members of the household were safely asleep, we could head back to Westeros and caught up with Arya, Jon Snow, Cersei and the rest of the huge, disparate but now converging cast of characters that populate the Game of Thrones universe. I'm not going to give anything away – one innocent click on Monday spoilt the opening for me, thank you very much Independent – but it did make me think about some of the Sustainability debates I've been having recently.

There's a strong fan theory that the overall story – tribes of people fighting to the death over the smallest of short term political gains while ignoring the existential threat of the White Walkers – is an analogy for our own short termism in the face of the threat of climate change. And of course, as the lengthy winter starts in Westeros, we can see the implications: food shortages, mass migration of threatened peoples etc, etc. And yet most of the characters are caught up in their own web of lust, hatred, envy, power and vengeance and pay little regard to the big threat.

So far, so good.

But I am still amazed at those who believe that the solution to climate change is to regress to some kind of pre-industrial state. Going 'plastic-free' seems to be the new 'gluten-free', seen as somehow inherently good despite a complete lack of evidence to back the idea up (the number of people who think they are gluten intolerant is many times the number who actually are). The Guardian ran a plastic-free piece on Tuesday, memorably including a 'pig hair toothbrush'. Nice. Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

24 April 2017

Oh to be back in the Bad Ol' Days

pollution

Nostalgia is natural. I love the nostalgia section in our local newspaper, even though I'm not a native of the city. And it is always tempting to hark back to the past – very rarely do you hear anybody say "well, it's much better these days." Personally, I think it comes from evolution – in a natural eco-system the creatures that fear unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells will live longer than those who don't.

C-FL6WuWsAAsK3SBut sometimes nostalgia can reach a level of self parody. While most of us marked last Friday's coal-free day in the UK as a remarkable achievement, the Telegraph published a bizarre lament for the days of smog, smut and "the tang of sulphur" (right).

In my view, coal is fast becoming the litmus test for progressive/conservative split in politics with Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Tony Abbott backing coal. Prominent 'lukewarmer' Matt Ridley's inherited family fortune came from coal (and still does). Often 'clean coal' is invoked to deflect criticism, but coal is always a theme.

The far left dabble in this pool of fossilised nostalgia too, with the UK's Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn plugging clean coal to bring back mining jobs. One of my favourite bonkers conspiracy theories is that Margaret Thatcher 'invented' climate change to kill off the UK's coal industry. Yeah, right.

It is easy to sneer (as I just have), but we have to remember the power of nostalgia and the lure of 'it could be like our childhood again'. The renewables revolution may seem like a miracle to the readers of this blog, but change always threatens someone. And it is those people we need to engage with – on their terms – rather than preaching to the green choir.

 

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

18 November 2016

Climate Doom or Low Carbon Revolution? You choose...

Half empty or half full - pessimism or optimism


The news about climate change and sustainability is very polarised at the minute. On one hand we have some stupendously good news, such as:

  • Global carbon emissions flat-lining for the last three years;
  • The Paris Climate Change Agreement coming into force;
  • Investment in and installation of renewable energy continuing to soar while prices tumble;
  • China and India turning their backs on coal.

On the other hand, things still look very bleak:

  • 2016 breaking the warmest year on record yet again and carbon concentrations in the atmosphere continuing to rise;
  • Arctic sea ice taking an extremely worrying direction;
  • There are signs we are heading to the first mass extinction since the end of the dinosaurs;
  • A climate change denier being elected to the White House (based on expressed views, although these always seem to be subject to change).

Regular readers will know I generally favour the former over the latter, but both can be either constructive or destructive, depending on how we decide to respond:

  • Positive news should inspire us to go further faster rather than complacency;
  • Negative news should also spur action and not maroon us in despondency.

Whichever, the choice is ours. Choose wisely.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

9 November 2016

Snap Verdict: Trump Victory and the Climate Battle

Oh dear, who saw that coming? Actually I kind of did, not through any great political or empathetic insight I have to say, just that, as 2016 has been such a unpredictable year already, you couldn't rule anything out.

So what does Donald Trump's victory mean for the battle against climate change?

On the impact of Brexit on the low carbon economy, I was sanguine. The UK still has plenty of climate laws, particularly the little-discussed but powerful 'carbon price floor' to make progress, and, as we have have seen since, new PM Theresa May has committed the country to the Paris Agreement.

With Trump, I'm not so optimistic. While the US Government system, the Republican Party and the cold light of reality will no doubt curb some of his more clownish election pledges, on climate change he is at one with much of the Republican world – denial. Coal mines, fracking, shale oil – these are all easy ways of delivering on his promise of jobs and energy security that he made to blue-collar America. His isolationist stance suggests that international agreements will get short shrift.

Being of an optimistic bent, I think our best hope is that business talks business to the tycoon Trump. If the Walmarts of this world demand low carbon, then that's a big direct and indirect lever. If the Teslas can show how clean tech can create jobs, wealth and exports, that may hold some sway.

But at the end of the day, I can see nothing but a tough four years for our movement. Doesn't mean we should give up, though, let's keep fighting for a better future.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

8 November 2016

Review: Leonardo DiCaprio's Before the Flood


This brand new climate change documentary  by Leonardo DiCaprio has been released just before the US goes to the polls to pick a new president (you can watch the whole thing above). While Donald Trump only makes a fleeting appearance, spouting inanities as always, I can't help but think the timing is far from coincidental.

The name 'Before The Flood' is taken from the central panel of a Hieronymus Bosch triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights, a print of which hung over DiCaprio's 'crib' as a child (not sure I'd pick Bosch to decorate my kids' rooms but, hey...). In that central panel, the seven deadly sins start to corrupt humankind before the inevitable final panel of doom.

The movie follows DiCaprio as he travels the world talking to local activists, climate scientists and major figures such as Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the Pope. Here are the key moments that stuck with me: Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

2 November 2016

Stand up for science!

newton-apple-tree

At the weekend the family headed down to Bedford to catch up with my brother-in-law and celebrate the middle one's seventh birthday. As is usual on our (rare) long car journeys, we stopped at a National Trust place on each leg to break up the monotony and avoid the horrors of the motorway service station. On the way south, we had a planned break the wonderful Fountains Abbey/Studley Gardens, but on the way back we picked one at random from the road atlas, called Woolsthorpe Manor.

We pulled into the modest carpark, which couldn't have taken more than 40 cars and no coaches. It was only as we walked up to the ticket hut that we saw a sign telling us that this was the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton. Not only that, but it was here, on an enforced break from plague-ridden Cambridge, that Newton sat under an apple tree in the orchard and had his eureka moment on gravity (and the tree still stands – well, slumps – to this day, behind the family in the pic).

And the most incredible thing about this incredible place is that no-one really knows about it. I mean, not only did Newton's Laws dominate science for the next 300 years, he also invented the reflecting telescope, proved beyond doubt that the planets circled the sun, co-invented calculus and a whole bunch of other important mathematical stuff (we'll draw a veil over the alchemy obsession – nobody's perfect). It's hard to imagine any one person having a bigger influence over our modern lives and yet there's no fuss.

We go on pilgrimages to religious sites, literary sites (Stratford upon Avon), historical sites and architectural sites, but the science which underpins our wealth, health and entertainment hardly gets a look in. When I was at Cambridge, the building where Walton and Cockcroft split the atom was being used as a bike shed when it should arguably be a museum.

Is this lack of respect for science the reason why thousands of armchair philosophers reckon they can disprove the central tenets of climate science which have been painstakingly developed, tested, revised and re-tested for almost 200 years? Is it why the Global Warming Policy Forum can produce a report claiming almost all science is dubious without meeting roars of laughter? Is it why otherwise intelligent politicians can casually dismiss hard evidence that doesn't fit with their worldview?

In this supposedly 'post-truth' world, I think it's about time we stood up for science, evidence and rationality.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

5 October 2016

Slim Sustainability Pickings from UK Political Leaders

Theresa_May_UK_Home_Office_(cropped)Every year I sift through the leaders' speeches at the UK political party conferences so you don't have to. My theory is that, no matter what is discussed in the rest of the conference, the content of the leader's speech shows just how much of a priority is put upon green policies. Last year, I concluded the content was disappointing, this year makes that look like a low carbon bonanza. All the conferences were dominated by one word – Brexit – and most of the party leaderships where in something of a state of flux, but still, this was poor stuff. Here goes: Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

12 September 2016

Pick your climate gurus with care

epicfailMy regular paper is The Guardian, somewhat under sufferance ever since my previous favourite The Independent started to shrink in size and quality about a decade ago. One of the things that bugs me about The Grauniad is its insistence on turning to novelists for wisdom on the big issues of the day whether terrorism, migration or climate change. Why listen to experienced diplomats, politicians, soldiers, scientists or engineers when you can ask Hilary Mantel what she thinks?

And lo, we get an article about Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh complaining that the arts, along with everybody else, haven't addressed climate change enough. The article concludes:

Worryingly, Ghosh has few solutions to offer. “I am not sure there are solutions. The problem is of such a scale that we are dwarfed by it,” he said.

Maybe it's just me, but it doesn't worry me much at all that a novelist doesn't know how to solve climate change. We have plenty of people who know how to do that. They're beavering away at making it happen quickly enough while Mr Ghosh tours India in a self-appointed role as a prophet of doom.

As the second most populated country in the world, and developing fast, India is currently pivotal to the whole battle for climate change. The recent G20 communiqué on the Paris Agreement was diluted by the Indian Government worried about economic impacts. If the arts really can deliver change, it will have persuade the country's leadership that tackling climate change will also deliver economic and social benefits, if they do it right. That's going to take a positive vision from Ghosh and his colleagues.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

1 July 2016

Optimism, Pessimism and Sustainability

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

world brainI was at a meeting of the Green Thinkers book club last night. We were discussing Prof Tim Flannery's "Atmosphere of Hope" book published on the run up to the Paris talks last December. I was actually going to review the book here, but to be honest it's not a great piece of work, seemingly rushed out to give an alternative view to the Australian Government's official line during the talks (Flannery was head of the Australian Climate Commission which was abolished by the incoming Abbott Government in 2013). But the curious thing is that, contrary to the title, it's quite a depressing read.

Appropriately, the discussion around tackling climate change split amongst the pessimists and the optimists. For the former, we're royally screwed by a toxic cocktail of greed, capitalism and corruption. For the latter, of which regular readers will guess I'm a life member, we have to utilise technology, capitalism and design to deliver a massive transformation.

We sustainability optimists are not naive about the scale of the problem, rather we use that as a spur to go further, faster. We are trying to build a vision of a glorious sustainable future, not trying to scare people into action. We use all the tools at our disposal – including the power of global capitalism to bring economies of scale to green technologies.

And, if we fail, it won't be for lack of trying.

“No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.” – H.Keller

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

28 March 2016

Can we save the planet?

Jimmy and lego neneOver the Easter weekend we made one of our regular pilgrimages to Washington Wildfowl & Wetland Trust. Added to the exciting wild birds (we saw lesser redpoll, avocet and jack snipe), and the 'captive' bird collection, there was a Lego special with nine enormous models of birds including the iconic Nene or Hawaiian Goose (see pic).

The Nene is a wonderful conservation success story – and a powerful reason why we shouldn't be squeamish about zoos. The population was down to 30 in the 1960s, but is now at 2500 in the wild, with another 1000 or so at locations like Washington.

Bouncing back from such a critically low level is an inspiration to all of us working in the sustainability. OK, it's just one bird species, but it shows that we can make a difference if we really try. Issues like climate change may require considerably more effort to tackle, but a 'can do' attitude is the only way we're going to get close.

Let's do it.

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

7 March 2016

Turning 'OR' into 'AND' for sustainability

what can I do

Years ago I was at a regional sustainability workshop and the facilitators made the mistake of giving each table a blank flipchart to list our priorities.* One lady in our group from a conservation group promptly slammed a fat file of newspaper clippings and internet print-outs on the table and commenced a lengthy rant against wind turbines, oblivious and impervious to all attempts to change the subject.

More recently we've had the big debate about climate change vs local air quality – I'm one of those who went diesel in the drive to cut carbon emissions, but at the expense of other pollutants. Of course the anti-climate change brigade have jumped on this as an example of 'green idiocy'.

And I'm sure we've all come across minds which are fixed in the concrete of "sustainability = reduced profits" despite all evidence to the contrary.

In all three cases, progress gets stuck on the spike of a false 'OR'. We can have renewable energy AND protect the countryside, we can tackle climate change AND local air quality, we can be sustainable AND turn a healthy profit. But those ORs must swap to ANDs or we'll be stuck on the start line.

 

* if you want to learn how to avoid workshops going wrong like this, check out our Workshop Masterclass.

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

16 December 2015

Engineering the (low carbon) future

cibse cropped

Last night I was the speaker at the Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers (CIBSE) North East branch. Doing a last minute piece of homework on CIBSE yesterday afternoon, I found the above on the CIBSE website – not hidden in some obscure page that I had to dig out, but the third point on the 'About Us' page.

It makes me smile, as when my own Engineering Institute, the MIET, launched an 'Engineering for a Sustainable Future' network about 15 years ago, a section of the old guard got out their quills and wrote spluttering letters that environmental issues were for politicians, not engineers.

I'm glad to see how far our profession has come. Engineers are fundamentally problem solvers and the current sustainability problem is arguably the biggest problem humanity has ever faced (save the occasional plague). CIBSE have clearly taken this fully on board (although I think their 50% figure above is a little high, I quoted a figure of 37% from Government stats).

I ran a highly interactive session – the flip chart pages filled outnumbered the Powerpoint slides I used. We teased out a number of key challenges for building service engineers, including:

  • Immature/expensive technologies;
  • Distorted incentives – the developer isn't responsible for paying the bills in use;
  • Behavioural change of users/influencing behaviour through design;
  • Retrofitting existing building stock;
  • Integrating heating/cooling systems with the building design to optimise performance.

These are not trivial problems to overcome and we did some chewing over possible solutions.

I finished the session by returning to the CIBSE graphic above and telling the delegates, semi-tongue in cheek, that the future of humanity was in their hands. I'm sure I heard a collective gulp.

 

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

Free monthly bulletin:

Learn how to help your business go green from the comfort of your desk..

View events

By Gareth Kane

Everything you need to know to integrate sustainability into the DNA of your business.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

A highly accessible, practical guide to those who want to introduce sustainability into their business or organization quickly and effectively.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

The smart way to engage effectively with employees

View events