The final countdown?

One hundred months website image
I generally cross to the sunny side of the street when I can. It’s an attitude that I try to cultivate generally, not just during this bleak, long winter. Given the deluge of facts about human impacts on the natural world it’s not always easy.

When someone argues convincingly we’ve got a 100 months before runaway climate changes begins having really catastrophic impacts, it’s pretty sobering.

Andrew Simmons, from the new economics foundation (nef), and other colleagues presented evidence in the Guardian over the weekend suggesting we’ve hit “the final countdown“. In a nef technical note Simmons calculates “that 100 months from 1 August 2008, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will begin to exceed a point whereby it is no longer likely we will be able to avert potentially irreversible climate change.”

The new economics foundation is staying resolutely positive. They believe a new green deal will help people living in the UK take the urgent action required to address climate change. A Green New Deal group proposes:

… drawing inspiration from the tone of President Roosevelt’s comprehensive response to the Great Depression, propose a modernised version, a ‘Green New Deal’ designed to power a renewables revolution, create thousands of green-collar jobs and rein in the distorting power of the finance sector while making more low-cost capital available for pressing priorities.

Then there’s Pete, Andrew and the whole crew starting a website to encourage people to be politically active on climate change. You can sign up for a monthly message.

Practical knowledge gained from the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales seems to keep Peter Harper buoyed up. He reckons a radical reduction in the amount carbon we consumer per household is needed in the next 20 years. At a recent talk in Melbourne Harper shared his analysis of just how difficult it will be to shift to a low carbon society. Using two fictitious families he names the “WOTs” (Well-Off Techie greenie household) and the “LILs” (Low-Income Lifestyle greenie household) Harper argues the former won’t bring about carbon emission reductions because of unnegotiable lifestyle decisions, and the latter lifestyle option is unappealing on a mass scale. Both video and audio versions of the 17 April talk are online.

In the opinion piece I contributed to a review of progress with the e-government strategy published in June 2008, my source of optimism is more theoretical. I recall Mark Roseland’s pithy description of the “environmental crisis as a creativity crisis”. I suggest there needs to be “…greater responsiveness by government to the creativity of citizens. An effective and far-sighted e-government programme can make a big contribution by freeing up talents within the ranks of government, better engaging with citizens, and ensuring citizens are well equipped to organise themselves locally.” Read the full piece at “An e-government response to the climate change crisis: tapping into citizen creativity“, or the other 14 think pieces.

I wrote this over a year ago. Remarkably, my sense of optimism rings true. That’s partly as I’m hopeful civil servants with environmental sensitivities will use e-government tools and culture change to share alternative advice and begin debating how we transform society to bring about changes we urgently need. I’m also convinced that the Internet still contains within it a disruptive thread that supports and sustains activism.

So whatever alarming prognosis people come up with, it’s both the message and the medium that keeps my optimism alive.