Please don’t be alarmed, but I’m starting to feel optimistic. I’m starting to believe that it may actually be possible to change things for the better and, in the face of an imminent climate and ecological breakdown, to turn things around and secure the wellbeing of future generations. And if I’m correct, this will be largely down Extinction Rebellion – the global grass roots movement and their programme of non-violent direct action. I say this after reading on the BBC News site that climate protesters have stormed a coal mine in Germany, breaking through police lines during a weekend of protests against fossil fuel use. Whether this was organised by XR or not I don’t know. But if not it was surely inspired by their strategy, as was Greenpeace’s protest at the Chancellor’s Mansion House speech. These protests are both inspiring and effective.
This dawning optimism was given a boost earlier in the week when I attended a ‘Climate Change Adaptation Framework for Dorset’ event, jointly organised by Dorset Local Nature Partnership and the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership. I have to admit that I was initially sceptical regarding the LEP’s involvement. I say this because I assume that their economic approach is mainstream and conservative. For example, whilst their Dorset Horizon 2038 talks of their ambition “to build a more productive, innovative, inclusive and sustainable economy” (at face value, no problem with that), it’s subtitle is ‘A Vision for Growth’. If we are serious about responding to climate breakdown we need to end our obsession with the pursuit of economic growth. Rather than this being the over-arching measure of economic success we need to adopt that of human and ecological wellbeing; we need, in the words of economist Kate Raworth, to become agnostic towards economic growth.
But whilst the LEP’s current economic model may well place economic growth centre stage, presentations at this event did not. In fact, I don’t recall ‘economic growth’ being mentioned at all. Moreover, one of the main presenters talked about the need to transform our economic system, of moving towards a circular economy. This is most encouraging. Clive Lewis MP, in XR’s recent publication This is not a Drill, argues that a shift to a circular economy will involve cuts in consumption, increased recycling, drastic improvements to our re-use efficiency, and (most importantly) the abandonment of our fetish for growth. Instead, our goals must be a decarbonised economy of full employment built upon renewables, recycling technologies, biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. To slightly amend a comment made by Clive Lewis: There will be no jobs or wealth on a dead planet.
So you can see how my optimism was soaring. It was soaring even as I started writing this. But then I heard the ex-Labour MP David Miliband on the Andrew Marr show talk about a possible armed conflict between the USA and Iran. And as they described how quickly such a conflict could escalate I could feel my optimism draining away. Very quickly my imagination was constructing all kinds of disastrous scenarios, many involving nuclear weapons. And that, despite the efforts of CND, is an issue that we haven’t resolved, despite years of campaigning. So, if we really are serious about avoiding the extinction of humanity perhaps we need to bring the issue of nuclear weapons back to the centre of grass roots campaigning as well.
My imagination has calmed down now, and my optimism is returning. But it would be a far more resilient optimism if could get rid of nuclear weapons!