Reasons to be cheerful (about green issues)
I had an old college chum over for dinner last week and we did a lot of reminiscing about our student days and the years of optimism post-graduation in the mid-90s – Brit Pop and all that. I made the comment that the period between the fall of The Wall in 1989 and the Iraq War in 2003 was a period of hope where everything seemed to be going in the right direction. Democracy was spreading and peace-processes were popping up in long term conflicts from Northern Ireland to the Middle East. Then I had to correct myself – except for Rwanda, of course. And the former Yugoslavia… and Sri Lanka. before long we realised that the 90s weren’t that great after all – we were looking at the past through rose tinted spectacles.
I’ve made it a rule that I fact check my assumptions, so over the weekend I did some Googling and found that we were wrong about the 90s – despite the ghoulish terror tactics of ISIS/Daesh, the world has been safer in the 21st Century than it has been for decades (see the graph below from the Centre for Systematic Peace). The Rwandan conflict in particular was a huge spike in misery, yet I had shunted it to the back of my head.
When we are dealing with a threat such as climate change, it is easy to get misty-eyed about the past and negative about the present. If you check the data, rather than the headlines, we are making steady progress. World carbon emissions have stalled, oil demand has plummeted (one of the factors in the falling price), and many nations are surging past significant renewable energy milestones. Even here in the UK, with Government support that could charitably be described as lukewarm, last quarter over 48% of our electricity came from renewables or nuclear, with coal falling to its lowest contribution ever.
Let’s not get despondent by the negativity. Like a rugby prop forward we have to keep throwing ourselves a couple of yards forward into enemy territory, crashing into the opposition, then presenting the ball cleanly back for the next player to do the same, grinding our way towards the goal line. The gaps to dart through to score will open eventually – and often more quickly than we expect.[Maybe I should apologise to all my English readers for a rugby analogy at this sensitive time, but those of us from the Celtic nations will appreciate it!]