29 December 2017

What do we actually want?

One reason I don't watch tv programmes about wildlife is given by George Monbiot:
To be aware of the wonder and enchantment of the world, its astonishing creatures and complex interactions, and to be aware simultaneously of the remarkably rapid destruction of almost every living system, is to take on a burden of grief that is almost unbearable. The unseen world, George Monbiot, 28 December
Neither have I read all of Tipping point for planet Earth, which ends:
The world really is poised to roll in one of two different directions. One direction leads us right over an environmental tipping point....The other direction leads to the bright future that our children want, and that we all want. Ending up at that future requires building communication bridges, and enhancing our global awareness, to the point that a critical mass of the global society and world leaders recognises our current environmental problems as real, and begins fixing them before it’s too late. If we can get to that kind of tipping point we’re in good shape, because we’ve already got much of the technology we need, and people are incredibly clever when they’re motivated. Tipping point for planet Earth, Anthony Barnovsky, July 2016
We are all the beneficiaries of a degraded environment. I don't just mean those of us who fly or drive or buy supermarket food. I mean everyone on the planet. By destroying the environment we have allowed a massive increase in the quantity of life, and we ourselves, our lives, are the result. Without past environmental destruction the earth would be supporting far fewer people. Many of us are also beneficiaries in that we enjoy a life of abundant food, good health and material wealth. My point is that any campaign or reframing, must start with recognising that It's not us versus them. We are all 'us'. If we do actually want future generations to face brighter prospects we, the 'critical mass of global society' need to encourage our 'world leaders' to express that goal in some form that will motivate people to do something about it. Statements of intent aren't enough.

To be more pragmatic, I suggest reframing the discussion in terms of explicit, agreed, meaningful, environmental goals. Not, as at present, about rights, processes, activities, or funding of institutions. Broad goals that are meaningful to all of us, such as reductions in the levels of pollution of our air and water, or so that instead of trying to monitor and pin down polluters of our air and water, we'd agree on and target the quality of our air and water. Instead of trying to target the average planetary temperature, we'd target for reduction the harm done (to humans, animals and plants) by adverse climatic events. These are goals that mean something to everyone and there is more consensus over what we need than about how to get there. Talking about outcomes makes trade-offs clearer, and brings more participation and buy-in into environmental policy. My piece on Environmental Policy Bonds goes into more detail and discusses how we can use the market's incentives and efficiencies to achieve environmental goals. (I've also written about climate change.) Efficiency is part of it, but the first step, which we have not taken, is to articulate and reward the achievement of agreed, explicit and meaningful goals.

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